On a recent flight from Chicago to Atlanta, I sat on my phone, browsing photos of the wedding I had just been to. Before we had taken off, I texted family and perused the web for the hour or so we spent waiting to take off. Before that, I had attentively watched our progress to the airport on Google Maps, waiting to announce the next exit. Without much thought, I had spent almost 4 hours looking down at my phone. As the plane descended towards the runway, I swallowed a few times to adjust my ears to the changing pressure. When swallowing wasn’t successful, I opened my mouth to let out a big yawn. As I stretched my tongue and opened my jaw, the floor of my mouth and the hyoid muscles when into spasm. It hurt to swallow, it hurt to stick out my tongue and it hurt to lift my neck. Luckily I had another Rolfer sitting next to me, and with a little work the spasm released. But, it got me thinking...
On phone-heavy days, especially when traveling, a few simple exercises would do wonders to combat the oh-so-common “text neck”. As you pier down at your screen, the front of your neck shortens and the back of your neck (all the way down between your shoulder blades) lengthens. To get into prime texting position, you might lift your phone towards your face, thumbs at attention and shoulders rolled forward. In an ideal world, we would not be so dependent on phones for daily tasks and we would have the self-control not to reach for it in times of boredom. But until I no longer use my phone for email, scheduling, banking and cute baby animals, these simple exercises can be great damage control.
The main idea is that you want to balance muscles’ time between shortening and lengthening. If they stay too long in either state, you start so see dysfunction and may start to feel pain. So here’s what you can do:
A. Chin Lift: Bring your palms to the base of your neck and drag the skin downward. Keeping the skin taut, lift your chin straight up towards the ceiling. Make gentle side to side movements. Scope out tight areas of your neck and stretch there.
B. Side bend: Keeping the skin at the base of the neck taut, bring one ear to your shoulder. To pinpoint the stretch into the “side” neck muscles, you may need to slide your pinning palm to the opposite-side collarbone.
C. Pin and Turn: Pinning the skin at one collarbone, turn your head slowly to look to the opposite side. You may move the pinning palm higher up onto the front the neck to ensure a stretch in the Sternocleidomastoid muscles.
Get those Posterior (Back) Neck Muscles to shorten!
A. Head Retractions: Interlace your fingers and place your palms on the back of your head. As you press your hands forward into your head, press the back of your head into your palms. Do this in a pulsing motion, pressing actively and then trying tocompletely relax those neck muscles. Continue until you feel the muscles at the base of your scull beginning to tire. If you text a lot, do quite a few.
B. Shoulder Blade Dips: Locate the lower tips of your scapula (shoulder blade). With arms relaxed, pull those tips down and in as if you are drawing two lines that meet around your back-center belt loop. If you text or type on a computer, this is greatto do daily.
A. “Pec” stretches: Stand in a doorway and place one palm at head height with your elbow bent (to avoid nerve aggravation). Press the palm into the wall and slowly turn to look over the opposite shoulder. This is an active stretch, so for some people it may feel more like strengthening than stretching. The point is to train your Pectoralis muscles to stay long as they contract.
Take a moment to sense what’s around you at 360 degrees. Use more senses than just your eyes. Feel what the air is like behind your head. Get a sense of what the wall behind you is like, or the world outside of that wall, or the weather above you. Instead of crunching all your awareness into a tiny little screen in front of you, see if you can spread out and take up a little more of your “back-space”. Your body enjoys a little extra wiggle room, both physical and mental.