We scroll, swipe, text, tweet, blog, vlog, type, Tube, shop, pin, binge, navigate, pay our bills, and run our businesses—all in the palms of our hands.
Hands that are attached to our internally rotated and rounded shoulders, tight pecs, a kyphotic spine and forward-jutting head that comes around corners before we do, because … technology.
Hunching over our laptops, pads and cell phones has us losing sleep due to aching muscles, experiencing headaches and suffering from a number of other issues.
Welcome to the age of technology-induced chronic problems.
We’re all guilty of it. Myself included. And, possibly even you, my manual therapist friend.
It’s kind of crazy when you think about it though.
Technology has simultaneously broadened our experience while shrinking our stature.
Tech neck has become an epidemic and hunchback has become the millennial moniker. This slumped-over posture has some incredibly serious health ramifications besides just sore muscles.
Let’s start with breathing. It’s sort of important.
Try taking a deep, diaphragmatic breath when your upper torso is collapsed like a wet towel, has your lungs in a bear hug and your head is perched 4 to 6 inches forward like you’re a stunt double for Quasimodo.
Super easy, right? Now try exercising that way.
Take your dog for a walk. Play with your kids. Take the stairs. This postural epidemic is having some very real ramifications even for younger children as they get their phones at earlier ages.
In spite of trying to adopt healthy habits, such asgoing to the gym, issues are inadvertently perpetuated by exercises that exacerbate an already overtightened anterior chain.
Even well-intended people walk out with a head that feels like a 10-poundbowling ball precariously perched on a toothpick and the same sore neck and pounding headache that’s been a constant all day.
But, hey. Don’t forget to post a pic of your gains.
Let’s be real.
Social media, apps and smart digital things aren’t going anywhere, nor should they. Neither are these issues, unless we make some changes to our daily habits, awareness and therapeutic interventions. (As in manual and mechanical therapy.)
Until we develop a new digital model of communication that magically floats at eye level or horizontal work spaces with computers on the ceiling, or we trade our digital leashes in for the old-fashioned way of living, we need ways to manage the physical issues associated with tech.
I know what you’re thinking, but hold the “Thanks, Captain Obvious” commentary for just a sec.
We all knowwe should be standing up straighter, sitting taller and walking taller.
All the tallness, all the time. But knowing it and doing it are not the same thing. Obviously. Luckily for us there are some simple interventions that we can use for our clients as well as ourselves to help remind and train the brain to straighten up.
First, give some visual feedback. You guessed it. Selfie time. (There should be no compliance issues with this one.) Give the brain the visual data of what needs to be corrected. It’s far more powerful to actually see postural transgressions than to just be told they exist.
The visual component also serves as a training tool for the brain. We have to know what needs to be adjusted and what direction to do that in. Actually seeing it helps the brain create a neurological reference point and a compass, if you will, to make adjustments accordingly.
Use apps like Posture Screen and Coach’s Eye to provide visual, measurable data for baselines, progressions, and a reference for treatment direction. The information they can provide is clinically relevant and valuable for both you and the person you’re helping.
Work through the spectrum of static and dynamic postural progressions with soft tissue work, kinetic and visual cueing and movement re-education. Depending on your scope of practice and your level of knowledge, you can achieve this a number of ways with various methods of intervention such as corrective exercise, kinesiology tape, IASTM and cupping.
Don’t mistake the latter suggestions as merely soft tissue work. All of the options mentioned are deeply centered around their neurological impact on changing movement patterns and proprioception.
Touching the skin is like tapping into the brain’s cockpit. We can communicate all sorts of coordinates to the postural pilot in there by using something as simple as kinesiology tape.
Kinesiology tape provides corrective feedback for movement and posture, andalso minimizes the sensations of pain. Given that the postural deviations we are referring to often cause pain, it’s important to recognize how critical it is to help alleviate that pain as much as possible before trying to introduce change.
Pain is like a constant foghorn or alarm clock going off in the brain. It’s much harder for a brain perceiving pain to assimilate new posture or movement cues until that pain is gone or at least diminished.
Utilize your clinical skills to assess the most appropriate ways to provide relief.
It might be various forms of manual therapy, topical analgesics, or a combination of several methods. Whatever method(s) you choose to use, follow it up with taping for pain relief. Now that you’ve at least turned down the pain “noise” in the brain, you’ve created a more receptive neurological environment to create change.
Taping applications to the posterior chain can be quite effective when it comes to assisting the body in finding a more optimal position. In the case of “tech neck”, a simple application of two vertical strips placed on the upper torso of the back can provide enough feedback to help alleviate pain and provide correction for those forward rounded shoulders.
There are a variety of taping applications that could be deemed appropriate. Find a kinesiology taping class near you to learn how to correctly use it and you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.
It’s minimally invasive and acts as a constant reminder to return to the correct position and provide gentle, effective feedback when you fall out of line.
(It’s like the yoga teacher that always finds you no matter how hard you try to blend in the back of the room. Their jedi-yogi senses know when your upward dog is shaped more like an injured mermaid and their hands are quick to guide you to where you need to be.)
As in IASTM. And, no. I’m not even remotely suggesting that you painfully “scrape” your client’s muscles into submission. I’m talking about using IASTM on your client from the perspective of the nervous system. Theirs. Not yours.
With this approach, we can gently utilize the tool to down regulate the hypertonic tissues of the anterior body with a light, smooth effleurage type stroke.
On the posterior side of the body, we can utilize a more rapid, oscillating stroke to help up regulate the musculature needed to restore a more balanced posture. Again, find a reputable class to learn more about the neurology of tooling.
It makes sense that we would want to promote exercise and healthy activities to everyone. But, we need to make sure that the movements we are suggesting contribute to solving the problem and not perpetuating it. For starters, I can’t emphasize breath work enough. In my humble opinion, proper breath work should be at the core of all treatment and carried throughout.
Breathing is tied to every single physiological function, which in turn has an effect on our mechanical function. Including posture. It goes much, much deeper than that to include pain regulation and nervous system function. In instances of kyphosis, forward head, collapsed upper torso, we want to help open the body back up.
Properly incorporated breath work automatically helps achieve a more open position by focusing on one simple thing: breathing. Helping your client breath again will literally have a cascading positive effect in a multitude of ways that will contribute to postural reconditioning.
Movements that focus on strengthening the core and the entire posterior chain will also play a central role in alleviating the pain and restoring balance. Helping your client understand what types of activities and exercises would be most advantageous is important.
Clearly understanding what movements should be avoided for awhile is equally as important, such as exercises that perpetuate kyphotic posture, rounding of the shoulders, collapsed upper torso and forward head. Find movements that continue to promote a balanced structure.
Smarter than Smart
Bottom line, the ability to alleviate soft tissue tech issues is in your hands. Literally.
You can still love your technology but be smarter than the smart device in your hand.
Prevention is always easier than recovery so, seek balance, movement … and a better upward dog.
And above all else, breathe.
There’s no app for that.
About the Author:
Stacey Thomas, LMT, SFMA, FMS, NKT, ART, CF-L2, has been a movement specialist since 1997, and licensed as a sports massage therapist since 2005. You can find her teaching a of ROCKTAPE (rocktape.com) class, speaking at national massage conventions or camping with her dog, Charlie. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “The Emerging Science on the Benefits of Cupping” and “Treating Lymphedema with Kinesiology Tape and IASTM Tools.”