4 stretches to treat ‘tech neck’ and other pain
Words: Bryan Alary
| Images: NAIT staff, iStock
| Videos: Bryan Alary
23 Mar, 2021
Try these restorative moves from alum Brittany Uchach
Social media can be a pain sometimes – and not just because of online trolls.
Heavy social media activity – as in more than two hours a day, which is merely the average for all users – means frequent hunching over a phone or craning at a computer. When it’s your full-time job like social media consultant Beverley Theresa (Marketing ’06), that often translates into poor posture for hours at a stretch and, ultimately, neck and other muscle and joint pain.
“I’m in a constant state of pain. I’m like the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” she says.
There’s a name for what ails Theresa and so many others: tech neck. It’s a repetitive strain injury often associated with smartphone use and affects young and old alike.
“I’m in a constant state of pain. I’m like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Compounding Theresa’s pain is too little movement and a poor ergonomic set up of her work area. As owner of Throwdown Social Media, the 34-year-old works to the demands of the job, often spending 12 to 16 hours on her computer with only the occasional bathroom or water break.
Theresa recently adjusted her monitor height – prompted, she admits, by this interview request. (We have helpful ergonomic solutions in another story). When the pain is really bad she’ll try stretching but doesn’t seek out other treatment.
“I’m, like, the worst,” she says with a laugh.
Fortunately, help is here in the form of another NAIT grad. Brittany Uchach (Personal Fitness Trainer ’05) works with many clients like Theresa who suffer from muscle pain and tightness from heavy technology use and too little movement.
“When you’re sitting too much, on your cellphone too much, you’re sitting at your computer too much, you’re driving too long – when these muscles and joints are stuck in a flex position, it can cause chronic pain and it doesn’t allow for optimal movement,” says Uchach, owner of Get Fit With Britt.
Regular stretching is another way to treat or keep neck pain at bay. Uchach shared four stretches that she uses with clients to get them back on the path to pain-free movement.
1. Elongate the neck
This exercise can be done anywhere, including at your desk or workstation, Uchach says. It involves putting one arm behind your back and then tilting your head to the opposite side and holding the stretch for 45 seconds.
“This just creates some length in the neck,” she says.
2. Doorway extension
This exercise can also be done anywhere; all you need is a door frame or wall from which to rotate your body and neck. Start by making an L-shape with one arm bent at 90 degrees and then push slightly against the frame and rotate your neck and head slightly in the opposite direction. Hold this stretch for 30 to 45 seconds.
“You’re getting some external rotation in the shoulder and you’re getting a bit of an extension through the thoracic spine,” she says, referring to the section that runs from the back of the neck to the abdomen. “Just let the joint and the soft tissue loosen up.”
3. Hip extension
Sitting for prolonged periods can also cause tightness in the hip joints and muscles, Uchach says. She recommends getting down on one knee with the opposite leg forward and bent at 90 degrees. Then, lean forward and raise your arm on the same side as the one with the knee on the ground. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds.
“We can intensify the stretch by squeezing the glutes,” she says.
4. Spine rotation
After periods of hunching over, Uchach recommends stretching the thoracic part of the spine. This stretch involves getting on the ground and laying on one side with your knees bent at 90 degrees in a fetal-like position. Next, stretch your arms forward and then gradually extend the top-facing arm toward the ground until the back of the shoulders touch the ground. (If you’re on your left side, extend your right arm backward, and vice versa).
“We’re just opening up the spine and getting into the anterior shoulder, which is excellent.”
Get up and move
Sedentary work habits only exacerbate the effects of poor posture, says Brittany Uchach, which is why she advises clients to set a timer to remind them to get up every hour.
“Move around – find excuses to move around. Go to the bathroom, go to the printer, pick the farther bathroom to walk to, take a coffee or water break.”