Unless you’ve been hiding under your office desk, you’ve undoubtedly heard that laboring over your laptop (or desktop) can wreck your posture. But constantly checking your phone or tablet can lead to a different set of posture problems—which need different solutions.
Here’s the position…
- Head jutting forward
- Shoulders hunched
- Upper back curved into a hump
Recognize it? Sports medicine science even has a name for the postural muscle imbalance it often causes—upper crossed syndrome. The name refers to a phenomenon in which tightness in muscles in the back and sides of the neck and chest crosses with weakness in the deep-neck muscles and upper arm muscles. You may find that you can’t turn your head fully from side to side—your range of motion is reduced. “These imbalances in strength and flexibility can lead to pain and even breathing problems because of the restricted position of the rib cage,” says Peter Scordilis, DC, a chiropractic sports medicine physician in Clifton, New Jersey, who treats patients with this condition.
He often prescribes three easy moves that you can do at home. They’re designed to help lengthen the specific muscles that get shortened, and strengthen those that get weakened when you’re spending too much time hunched over your phone.
Try to incorporate these exercises into your daily routine. Do at least three sets of 15 repetitions of each (set the alarm on your computer or phone as a reminder to take a movement break), and you’ll go a long way toward re-patterning your body to do the right thing.
What it does: Stretches the muscles in the back of your neck and strengthens the muscles in the front of your neck (deep cervical flexors).
How to do it…
- Stand with your back flat against a wall, arms by your sides.
- Keeping your chin parallel to the floor (in other words, don’t tuck it under or lift it up), press the back of your head into the wall. Hold for a few seconds, release and repeat.
What it does: Loosens and lengthens the muscles in the chest.
How to do it…
- Stand facing a corner of the room, about one foot away from where the walls meet.
- Stretch both arms straight out to the side toward the wall until your palms lie flat against each wall.
- Without hunching your shoulders, lean forward until you feel a stretch across the front of your chest. Hold for a few seconds, release and repeat.
What it does: Strengthens upper back and shoulder muscles to counter forward hunch.
How to do it…
- Stand with your back against a wall, feet parallel and hip distance apart. Your heels, butt, upper back and the back of your head should touch the wall throughout the exercise.
- Make loose fists with both hands, and place your knuckles against your temples, with your thumbs pointing down.
- Spread your elbows as wide as you can. Touch the wall if possible.
- Squeeze your elbows toward each other, allowing your knuckles to roll against your temples, until your elbows touch (or come as close as they can).
- Spread your elbows apart to the starting position. That’s one rep.
HOW TO PREVENT UPPER CROSSED SYNDROME EVERY DAY
While Dr. Scordilis finds that these exercises can really help, he emphasizes that they’re not miracle cures. To undo this common syndrome, you also need to pay attention to how you stand—and text—all day long. “It doesn’t matter how much you stretch at the gym,” he says. “If you’re bent over your desk or phone for eight hours a day, your chest and neck muscles are going to tighten up. Flexibility is a function of what you do throughout the day.”
So pay attention to your posture. Notice when you’re hunched forward, and train yourself to sit or stand up straight instead. Move around frequently. Instead of staying hunched over your computer or your phone, let your body move and stretch frequently throughout the day. Doing these exercises daily will help you experience the kind of healthy posture that you’ll want to carry throughout your day. For more tips, see Bottom Line’s “Good Posture Guide.”