Steps to take to prevent pain caused by 'tech neck'

Whether you are texting or typing, you may not realize that bending or holding your neck in a forward position can put a lot of stress on your spine.

Over a long period of time, that forward flexion can also lead to headaches, muscle strain and even disc injury. Experts even have a name for it: "tech neck."

Most people spend an average of 2 to 4 hours per day reading and texting on their smartphones. That adds up to nearly 1,400 hours a year.

But, there are things you can do to combat "tech neck."

Physical therapist Gina Pongetti said the first thing to do: be aware of the problem and start to limit screen time.

Besides that, Pongetti said you should try adding exercises into your daily routine. Start with a neutral stance, shoulders pulled down and away from your ears.

First, roll your shoulders forward and bend your neck forward. Then, overcorrect the position by rolling your shoulders back and pointing your head to the ceiling.

Second, tuck your chin towards the center of your neck then bring it back up to a neutral stance.

Third, raise your arms all the way over head then bring them down to your sides. Finally, squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you, and then relax. Experts say try to do at least 10 reps of each every day.

If you need a nudge, set a reminder on your phone.

"Every five minutes set an alarm until you get into the mode of actually stretching backwards or standing up," Pongetti said.

Something else that may help: a tablet or phone holder for your desk that elevates your device, which can significantly reduce neck flexion. Or take it a step further and get yourself a standing desk which can help you burn calories on top of getting rid of that tech neck.

Experts say the best way to improve your posture is to focus on exercises that strengthen your core, the abdominal low back muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis. Some of these muscles move your torso by flexing, extending or rotating your spine.

Others stabilize your pelvis and spine in a natural, neutral position. Doing these exercises help keep your bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly and efficiently.

They can also decrease the amount of wearing on joint surfaces, which can lower your risk for arthritis.

The American Posture Institute offers up lots of ergonomic tips, from how to hold your purse to the best way to sit at your desk so your body is in a neutral position.

Besides reducing pain and muscle strain, having better posture has another bonus: studies show it can be a mood booster.

"We live in a world now where slouching is highly promoted because we're sitting in chairs and our body is in a collapsed position," Erik Peper, a professor at San Francisco State University, said.

"If you have any history of exhaustion or negative thoughts, I would say that this body position amplifies them," he added.

Peper has conducted a series of studies on posture and how it can influence a person's mood, energy levels and cognitive performance. Some of his research has found that slouching promotes low mood and decreased energy levels.

And last year, a study from New Zealand linked upright posture with improved mood and energy levels among people with symptoms of depression.
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