In our modern world, tech neck was already a burgeoning phenomenon—but in the age of lockdown, where many have made the transition to work-from-home and are holding meetings virtually, it’s taken on a new life.
As the name implies, tech neck is repeatedly hanging your head down and forward to look at your phone or computer screen. “Every inch your head hangs forward of center adds extra perceived weight of the head by the nervous system due to gravity,” explains Emily Kiberd, a chiropractor and founder of New York’s Urban Wellness Clinic. “The muscles need to counteract this weight by locking down to hold your head up. This leads to tension headaches, migraines, jaw pain, and tightness in the midback and upper traps.”
It doesn’t just lead to physical discomfort, either. Let’s face it: Because staring at ourselves on Zoom day is having a perplexing impact on our self-image, many are also focused on the visual signs of tech neck, such as creasing and wrinkles. “The neck is a complicated place with its relatively thin skin and the powerful platysma muscle layer,” says Dara Liotta, a New York City-based plastic and cosmetic surgeon, who has seen an uptick in concerns around the neck during lockdown. “We ask a lot of our necks in this modern age—and holding out heads at a downward-looking angle for many hours a day combined with the delicate anatomy of the neck is a recipe for tech-neck related complaints.”
Moreover, it’s not just the limited confines and lack of a proper desk setup; there’s also the utter lack of work-life balance. “Now, there is no delineation between work and personal life, and many patients are rolling out of bed straight to sitting at their computers, working longer hours and taking fewer breaks,” says Kiberd. “Our ancestors used to keep their eyes on the horizon keeping them upright instead of looking down at a screen. Those days are long gone.” From reducing tension to preventing the premature formation of lines, here, three experts provide an all-encompassing guide to a healthier and more youthful-looking neck.
Make Your WFH Space More Ergonomic
The first step to preventing neck soreness and stiffness? “Elevate your computer screen so that your eyes hit the top third on the screen,” says Kiberd. In terms of ergonomic tools, she recommends investing in a standing desk, but with one caveat: You don’t need to stand all the time. “I suggest doing 20 to 30 minutes of intense work while sitting so you can concentrate, and then standing for more casual conference calls or leisurely spreadsheets,” she explains. “Mix up your standing and sitting at your standing desk. Life was meant to be dynamic, make your work from home the same.” When you’re sitting, it’s important to be conscious of your posture. A good rule of thumb: Sit with your feet grounded on the floor. “It’s hard to hold yourself up with proper posture if your legs are criss crossed or one leg is folded under the other,” explains Kiberd. “You want your feel grounded to build good posture from the ground up.”
Take Stand-Up-and-Move Breaks Throughout the Day
A major part of keeping your body healthy and happy is keeping mobile. Throughout the working day, be sure to shift positions and take frequent walk breaks to prevent stiffness and soreness. “No amount of ergonomic tools will replace the benefits of taking breaks away from your desk and moving your body,” says Kiberd. If a stiff neck is causing you discomfort, you can find relief in back-arching stretches, as well as a straightforward strength-training exercise, such as a farmer’s carry, which consists of carrying weight with your shoulders back and as little use of your spine as possible. “This move held for 10 breaths can reset “tech neck” faster and better than an hour-long massage,” she says of the posture-improving exercise. For further pain relief, consider getting regular active release technique soft tissue massage treatments, which break down adhesions, reduce inflammation, and help restore functional motion, from a chiropractor.