A new malady is sweeping the world, one that mainly targets children and teenagers but does not spare any age group. If you become afflicted, you can suffer disc herniation, pinched nerves, metabolic problems, reduced lung capacity, vascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, chronic headaches, poor emotional health, and chronic pain, not to mention reduced good looks. In 2008, the medical community named this new disorder “text neck.”
“Text neck” occurs when you allow your head, a ten-pound weight, to fall significantly forward of your body as you gaze down at an electronic device for long periods of time. This posture becomes more stressful on your spine as your head tilts progressively downwards. According to experts, every inch your head moves forward puts ten more pounds of weight on your spine. If for example you hold your head six inches forward, you are putting a crushing 60 pounds of weight on your back and shoulders. Worst of all, this posture eventually becomes engrained in your body. What our mothers told us, it turns out, is true: Slump, and you will get stuck that way! No wonder that we have an epidemic of young people with neck and back pain!
How do you treat “text neck?” Some doctors tell their patients to text less and try calling people. Others suggest lying backwards on an exercise ball. Chiropractors, who are all over this issue, recommend neck stretches and adjustments, and the cosmetic industry has come out with lotions to smooth neck wrinkles caused by texting.
These treatments might provide short term relief, but they fall short when it comes to providing a long term solution, one that would guard against getting “text neck” in the first place. Such a remedy could reset people’s posture physically and mentally so that they maintain relatively good posture throughout the day, even when they text. In my view, this solution would need to address “text neck” on three fronts: 1. Strengthen weak back and core muscles, 2. Increase poor body awareness and 3. Train in habitual good posture. You probably have already guessed where I’m going with this: the remedy is exercise.
Now that we’ve gotten this far, we still need to determine what kind of exercise best accomplishes these goals. For back strengthening, I’d like to suggest that barre workouts are an excellent choice. All barre classes, whether dance or exercise, compel your back muscles to work harder than usual over gravity as your muscles contract and extend, and many barre workouts include intense back strengthening intervals as well. In contrast, some ways of working out such as doing Nautilus circuits have you leaning on equipment much of the time. Second, an exercise-based remedy must teach you good posture, and last but not least it must increase body awareness by keeping you aware of your body alignment throughout the class. Without these last two features, a barre class could allow you to do the workout with your shoulders slumped, your back arched, and your head dropped forward, putting the 60 pounds on your spine that you’re trying to avoid!
All this considered, my recommendation for a long term solution to “text neck” is a barre workout that puts special emphasis on both improving posture and increasing body awareness. I know from personal experience that one such workout is The Bar Method. In a Bar Method class, teachers mention the posture benefit of each exercise, then help you as you work on your individual posture goals. If your shoulders go up, they will remind you by name to draw them down. If your head drops forward, they will encourage you to keep it lifted. They may also give you gentle hands-on adjustments to give you a deep awareness of your alignment.
Over the past decade, countless students have told me that The Bar Method’s focus on body awareness has transformed their posture. Hear it from a student named Amy, who wrote us this testimonial after one month of classes:
“I am becoming convinced that improved posture is now within my reach. I still have a ways to go, but that daily awareness is there, which is huge. An additional benefit is that in “standing tall” (versus slumping) I feel more energized and balanced. I’m sure I’m breathing deeper too. As I learn how to integrate all my muscles into good posture, I have a picture in my mind of what that looks and feels like now. I don’t want to go back!”
One last word on posture (see below): As the saying goes, if you don’t stand up straight, you could get stuck that way…forever 🙂