Life Time has partnered with the sports health experts at NYU Langone Health to provide insights into the common health issues that have the potential to prevent you from moving freely and functioning at your best.
Meet the Experts
- Charla R. Fischer, MD, orthopedic spine surgeon, NYU Langone’s Spine Center
- Danny King, master trainer, Life Time
Q: I can’t get the back of my head onto the mat or bench when I work out because my neck is so tight. I think it’s “text neck” from being on my phone so much — what can I do?
A: When you look down at your phone (or do any task that has you rounding forward and dropping your head) for an extended period, you can overstretch the muscles in your neck and back, says Charla R. Fischer, MD, orthopedic spine surgeon at NYU Langone’s Spine Center. This overstretching can lead to microtears, which cause the release of lactic acid, which triggers inflammation, irritation, and tension.
Text neck is a repetitive stress injury — and while not structurally dangerous, says Dr. Fischer, “your muscles are crying out, ‘help!’”
Further, if this flexed posture becomes habitual, your body adapts in ways that can cause joint pain, headaches, and even movement dysfunction, says Danny King, master trainer at Life Time. “Our bodies want us to be able to look forward, so if you’re always in this rounded posture and then you crank your neck to look up, it puts a ton of pressure right at the top of the spine.”
Not being able to rest the back of your head on the floor while lying down can be a sign that your upper back has gotten “stuck” in a flexed posture, says King.
Releasing Text Neck
Dr. Fischer and King recommend using your phone less as a first step toward easing the strain of text neck: Try aiming to check email on the computer, where you can be in a better posture; “cast” videos to a television screen; and use dictation rather than typing into the phone when you text.
And when you do use your phone, straighten up and move around regularly. “You want to stay loose,” says Dr. Fischer.
King recommends these at-home exercises to release tension and restore mobility to your neck and upper back.
Chin Tuck: Stand with your back against a wall with your feet out in front of you a bit; maintain a slight bend in your knees. Pull your chin back toward the wall as though you are trying to give yourself a double chin. Hold for a few breaths and release; do this 3 to 5 times, twice a day.
Upper-Back Extension: Lay a trigger-point roller across your mat and lie back so that your upper back is resting on the roller. (You can also use two tennis balls taped together in the shape of a peanut; lie down so that each ball is on either side of your spine.) Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
Let your back release into the roller or tennis balls as you breathe deeply for 15 to 20 seconds. If this creates too much pressure in your neck, place a yoga block under your head for support.
Upper-Back Stretch: Sit tall in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands interlaced behind your head. Gently draw your chin back as you traction your head forward. Hold for a few breaths and release; do this 3 to 5 times, twice a day.
These movements can gradually help bring more mobility to your upper back and release tension in your neck. Meanwhile, when you’re performing floor or bench exercises on your back, use a towel, yoga block, or mat to prop your head up so you can relax your neck.
The Sports Health experts at NYU Langone have the multi-specialty expertise to provide coordinated, comprehensive care for all types of athletes. As an official healthcare partner, Life Time is able to offer its members exclusive concierge access to NYU Langone’s world-class orthopedic specialists and performance experts, who can help you meet your fitness goals. To schedule an in-person appointment or video visit with a Sports Health expert, visit nyulangone.org/lifetime.