It seems that we have now entered into the full throws of the zombie apocalypse. Only our zombies don’t eat human flesh, rather, they silently stare blankly down at illuminated screens searching for something more exciting than that which surrounds them. But this chronic posture is leading to chronic problems and the inevitable google search on how to relieve tech neck.
No matter where you go, you would be hard-pressed not to witness countless people slouching over electronic devices of some configuration. It is this chronic forward position of the head that is leading to an explosion of head, neck, shoulder and arm issues plaguing today’s health care system.
What provides the structure to our body?
The bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the body are designed to counteract the effect gravity has on our bodies as it pushes down on us. The head floats above a flexible spine, centred over a muscular pelvic girdle, stabilized and anchored by the legs and feet.
The shoulders and arms drape over the rib cage connected almost solely by muscle, with only one point of ligamentation to attach them to the axial skeleton. This complex bio-mechanical wonder is designed to perform amazingly dynamic movements through multiple planes of motion.
But to maintain the health of the different tissues of the body, it is important for the body to move through space in a balanced and structurally sound position.
The spine is designed to act as a spring counteracting gravity’s compressive forces. But when the head is constantly tipped forward, tension, irritation, inflammation, and eventual degeneration are inevitable.
Disk and vertebral degeneration are common pathologies of lifelong poor posture, but it is the effect that chronically contracted (or stretched for that matter) soft tissue has on the body that will be the focus of this discussion.
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles on the side of the neck serve to turn the head from side to side. But with the head perpetually tipped forward, the SCM muscles exist in a chronically contracted state leading to a cascade of muscular dysfunction in the neck, shoulder and arms.
With the SCM contracted and the chin pushing forward, the upper trapezius on the back of the neck engages, elevating the shoulder blades (scapulae). As the shoulder blades rise and slide forward over the rib cage the tiny pectoralis minor muscles of the chest exacerbate the improper position of the shoulder girdle by pulling down on the clavicle.
Finally, the deepest layer of muscle on the side of the neck, the scalene, joins in the action and becomes tight as guitar strings. It is the effect of the tension on these three little muscles where so much pain and suffering begins.
What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
Branching off each vertebrae in the neck are several nerves that are responsible for the motor and sensory function of the upper back, chest, shoulder, and arms. It is this conglomeration of nerves called the brachial plexus that gradually makes its way from the cervical spine and wiggles its way between the scalene muscles and travels all the way down the arm to the hands and fingers.
However, with the scalene muscles perpetually engaged they end up acting like a close pin with the brachial nerves playing the part of the close line. This is where things become a real pain in the neck!
After a period of time with the neck muscles in this chronically contracted state, fascial adhesions (scar tissue) begins to build between the muscle fibre. This added layer solidifies them together and dramatically decreases their ability to function without pain.
The chronically contracted muscles as well as their stimulation on the nerves of the shoulder and arms, causes the person to position their upper body in an unnatural way in an attempt to avoid the pain that is generated.
Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the problem leading to more muscular imbalances. People suffering from this condition, which is known as TOS (thoracic outlet syndrome) experience a wide range of discomfort.
Muscle or joint pain, such as:
Pain that radiates down the arm;
Elbow, wrist or hand pain.
Or sensory dysfunctions such as:
inability to lift the arm;
Numbness in the arm or fingers;
Loss of strength;
Coldness In the limb.
How to Relieve Tech Neck:
To remedy this problem, several factors need to be addressed.
#1. Fascial adhesions need to be removed
To return the muscles to a functional state and relieve the stimulus on the nerve ending, the scar tissue that is glueing them together impeding their ability to slide freely, needs to be removed.
This can be done by way of Acupressure massage known as Tuina or any other myofascial release techniques such as A.R.T., fascial stretch, or Rolfing. This process can be uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary first step to return the tissue to a place of proper function.
#2. Muscular re-education
Next, the muscles need to be retaught what it means to contract and most importantly RELAX. This is where dynamic flexibility and range of motion exercise is very effective. Movements such as arm and shoulder rotations, neck rotations as well as thoracic spinal flexion and extension are important exercises to re-educate the tissue.
By moving the joints through large ranges of motion and alternately flexing and stretching the muscles, the tissue will begin to remember what it means to both flex and stretch without being perpetually stuck in one state over another.
#3. Muscular strengthening and structural stabilizing
Finally, it is of the utmost importance to strengthen the muscles of the posterior shoulder girdle (mid fibre trap, rhomboids, infraspinatus, and teres minor). These are the muscles that pull the shoulder blades together and help the shoulder to maintain a posterior and inferior position (back and down).
Exercises such as seated or one-armed rows, supinated lat-pull downs, and external shoulder rotation are important exercises to create the postural stability necessary to maintain good posture. When the upper body engages these muscles, the ones in question, such as the upper trapezius and scalene can relax.
By creating a more structurally sound position to the shoulder girdle the problem will not return. I’m not trying to tell you to throw your phone in the river (although it would help). What you do need to understand is that:
“illness is a product of behaviour, but so is health”.
Overly done movements lead to overuse injury, just as underused tissue leads to weakness and instability. As with all things, it’s about finding balance, and finding that balance is how you will relieve tech neck.
Think about it...
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