How Technology is Killing Your Posture

by Geoff Rand

I’d be willing to bet you are reading this article on a handheld device right now.  Did I just bust you hunching over straining to read your screen?  Ever feel a pain in your neck or back after a long bout of texting or surfing the web?  Yes?  Then you’ve got “text neck”.   With all the advances our species has made, technological innovations like cell phones are threatening to erase eons of progress and take us back to the hunched-over stance of our distant ancestors.

Studies have shown as the angle of forward head tilt increases, so does the equivalent weight on your neck.  An average human head weights 10-12 pounds, but with a 60-degree angle of tilt, that head can feel like 60 pounds, destroying your cervical and thoracic spine.  This leads to muscle weakness, skeletal misalignment and joint instability, and can cause pain in other areas as your body attempts to adjust itself to your sub-optimal posture.  It also makes you more prone to injury.  About the only positive to this malady is your frequent visits are helping your chiropractor afford that new Porsche he wanted.

Remember when Nintendo first came out?  I’d play Mario Bros. for hours and hours.  Afterward, my hands would have a painful curve to them as if I’d been rock climbing all day.  We called it Nintendo claw.  Now we have text claw.

How do you minimize text neck and text claw?  Hold your device up at eye level and take frequent breaks as you scroll or text.  Change your focus to what’s around you.  You might even avoid walking into a fountain, open manhole or bus.  Sprawl your fingers and palm out by pressing onto a desk, wall, or floor periodically to counteract the effect of the claw as we type. Return to a good posture before you go back to those important cat videos.  

But even turning off the handheld devices and video games isn’t enough.  Your office chair is trying to kill you.  Team it up with a poorly positioned computer, and your spine doesn’t stand a chance.  Even as I’m writing this article, I’m struggling to maintain a good, stabilized spine position with a laptop sitting way below eye level.

The reality for many of us is we cannot avoid sitting at a desk or in front of a computer for most of our workday.  Mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett suggests a few techniques to minimize the damage to your spine while sitting. 

First, have a desk that promotes good posture.  Your monitor should be at eye level and your keyboard at a height that doesn’t encourage slouching forward.  If you can work at a standing height desk, that would be your best option.

When you do sit, keep your back off the back of the chair and sit upright while stabilizing the spine and engaging your abdominal muscles at about 20% effort.  Sounds hard, right?  It is.  Don't get hung up on the 20% figure, but know that a degree of abdominal support needs to be maintained to keep your core stabilized.  Most of us lose focus on this task after just a few minutes even without the distraction of the computer.  You will quickly start hunching forward and rounding your spine.  The key is keeping your abs engaged in some capacity all the time, standing or sitting.  Most of us don’t do this and we are in a constant state of poor posture.

  A:  Proper spinal alignment   B:  Rounded forward    C:  Overextended

  A:  Proper spinal alignment   B:  Rounded forward    C:  Overextended

Kelly suggests standing up and reorganizing your stable sitting position every 10-15 minutes.  Yes, I know this is hardly realistic.  Maybe take up smoking so you have a reason to go outside frequently.  (I’m totally joking here people).

If you are able to stand up and reset at whatever time interval you can manage, it is important to establish that good, supported, upright spinal posture each time you sit down.  If you plop down like a bag of Jello and then try to fix a sloppy position, you will likely hunch forward or overextend backwards.

All hope is not lost, however.  There are some stretches you can do to counter that thoracic hunch and text neck.  But, they don’t work unless you actually do them.

The Counter Stretch

1.     Stand facing a table or counter that is about waist to chest high.  Place your hands on it and walk your feet back so that your feet are under your hips.

2.     Your feet should be straight or even slightly pigeon toed.  Push your butt/hips back, forming an arch in your lower back while moving your chest down towards the floor.  Lock out your elbows and tighten your quads.

3.      Breathe and hold the position for 1 minute making sure to keep equal weight distribution in your feet.

The Static Extension Position

1.     Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

2.     Walk your hands out in front 6 inches, then shift your body forward so that your shoulders stack right over your wrists.  Your hips should now be about 6 inches in front of your knees.

3.     Spread your fingers, keep your elbows locked out, and allow your shoulder blades to collapse together.  Let your head hang, releasing your neck.  Relax your stomach and allow your lower back to arch.

4.     Hold for 2 minutes.  Don’t let your elbows bend.

Upper Spinal Floor Twist

1.     Lie on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees and arms stacked straight out in front of you.

2.     Your arm closest to your knees rests on your knees, holding them together while the other arm reaches above and away from your knees.  Turn your head to look at your upper hand.

3.     Keep your knees stacked, breathe, and hold for 1-2 minutes.  Don’t let your knees come apart.  Repeat on the other side.

These are just a few of the exercises you can do to help reverse the effects technology has had on us.  See the links below for more information, pick up a copy of Kelly Starrett’s mobility bible, Becoming a Supple Leopard, or come to CFF’s yoga or mobility classes, where you can work on correcting these imbalances up to three times a week.