Hands up if this is you: you spend a large portion of your day (a couple of hours or more) sat, or perhaps stood, at a desk, table, steering wheel, or something to that effect. I imagine quite a lot of you raised your hand?
Now, keep your hand up if you’ve ever had aches, pain or stiffness in the shoulders, neck, or arms—particularly whilst, or after, working. I'm going to bet that most of you kept your hand up. And I’m also going to say that the two of them are probably correlated. All these symptoms are quite common after all, and they even have a hip name for it…The Tech Neck. (Ok, hands down now, thank you.)
What is Tech Neck?
Tech Neck occurs when posture in the upper back and shoulders round forward from the arms being in front of the body for long periods of time, and the posture is not supported. It's quite difficult to support this posture all day, and 'several hours' is a very long time for any of the muscles to be working. Add stress of a deadline on to that, and the shoulders also tense up.
For most people, the aches and pains associated with Tech Neck are caused by consistent strain being placed on muscles and nerves between the shoulders, and from the neck to the shoulders. The muscles in the chest become shorted, pulling the shoulders forward even more.
Because of the upper back rounding forward, the chin must lift to look straight ahead, putting pressure on the intervertebral discs in the neck, and weakening the deep supporting muscles in the throat responsible for holding the head up.
Quick Fix Stretches
Luckily, there are a few simple Pilates exercises and stretches you can do at your desk or in the office to help fix or prevent this from happening. These stretches can help ease the tension in the muscles and nerves, giving you short term, but very effective, relief.
1. Neck Stretch
Sit on your hands or hold under your chair, and sit up as tall as you can. Tilt your head to one side, trying to get your ear down to your shoulder. Push the shoulders down for a greater stretch. Hold for 10 seconds on each side, repeating 3-5 times throughout the day.
2. Upper Back Release
This one is best done on a chair with a back that's lower than the shoulder height.
Sitting up tall, place your hands behind your head and reach the upper back, shoulders and head back over the top of the chair. Keep the core engaged and shoulder down, away from the ears. You should have the feeling as though you want to reach up and over the chair. Repeat 3-4 times, holding for just one breath.
3. Chest Stretch
With a straight arm, place your hand against a wall just below shoulder height. Turn your body and shoulders away from your hand and the wall until you feel a stretch across your chest. Slightly change the height of your hand on the wall to stretch different areas of the chest. Hold for 10-15 seconds on each side.
It’s all well and good to put a figurative plaster on the aches, but combating the source of the problem is even better. Unless we’re going to quit our jobs so we’re not at a desk, the next best thing is to strengthen the muscles responsible for improving our posture.
This will also make us look better and taller, but more importantly, it will fight the imbalances that cause the pain.
4. Thoracic Back Extension
Firmly place your hands and forearms on your desk so the fingers are facing directly forward. Sitting up tall and with the core engaged, pull your elbows back, without really moving the arms. You will have the feeling that you are trying to slide your hands backward against a sticky surface.
At the same time, open the shoulders and lift your breastbone to the ceiling. Only the upper back should slightly arch allowing the muscles in the upper back and between the shoulders to work. Repeat 10-12 times, holding each for 1 breath.
5. Deep Neck Muscle Strengthener
Sitting up straight with your head against the back of the chair, nod your head—keeping the back of your head in contact with the chair. This brings your chin in towards your throat, giving you the feeling of making a double chin. Repeat 10-12 times holding each for 1 breath.
These exercises should begin to help relieve tension and build strength in the areas needed to fight against Tech Neck. For more exercises specifically designed to help the entire body from a day of sitting, check out the Pilates for Desk Workers full-length class.