The longer we spend looking at a screen, the more our muscles fatigue. The head, the heaviest part of the body, loses its support and drops down and forward, becoming "poked". This puts additional strain on already fatigued muscles. Whether it's cause or effect is unclear, but the more active our superficial neck muscles are, the less active the deep muscles are. The problem? It's the deep muscles that are designed to stay switched on at low force levels for longer periods of time. Because our main goal is to stay upright against gravity for long periods, it's the deep muscles we rely on to give our cervical spine stability, and allow the bigger superficial muscles to only work when needed.
Try Doing These Things
Firstly the sensible thing to do is try to take regular breaks from the screen. Change of posture is always a great strategy to combat the effects of gravity on the body. There are also some simple exercises we can do, either to calm down muscle tension, improve deep muscle activation, or both.
Muscle Energy Technique (this is for home exercise, clinic versions will vary)
Place your hand on one side of your head, just above the ear.
Now try to side bend your head in that direction against your hand, but gently push back with the hand, to create a "static" muscle contraction. Hold this for at least 8 seconds, then relax.
Repeat 4 times and do the same on the other side.
You can do this for every direction of movement in the neck, by positioning your hand at the opposite side of where you want to move. Use your cheeks for rotation, forehead for forward bend, back of the head for backward bend.
Start facing straight ahead and if you feel increased pain, reduce the force you are using. This does not require 100% of your force and should not be painful.
Deep Neck Flexor Muscle activation – the seated technique
Sit in an upright position with feet and back supported. Clasp your hands under your chin.
Tuck your chin down and under into a very slight nod. You should only have moved the base of the skull and top of the neck, the lower neck should be straight.
Now imagine a helium balloon is attached at the back of your head and is lifting it gently upward.
Finally, unclench your teeth to relax your jaw, and let go of that breath you were holding.
Congratulations, you've just activated your deep neck flexor muscles!
If you struggle to isolate a chin tuck with just the upper neck, try looking downward first with the eyeballs, it can be a helpful way to kickstart those deep neck flexors. Just look for your thighs without moving your head.
Of course there's much more to training this muscle group but you're off to a good start for spinal stability. If you'd like to learn more techniques, or are finding these tips are not quite enough for your pain levels at present, contact Megan for more comprehensive assessment and treatment on 0402284619 or firstname.lastname@example.org