This topic is one that I’ve been meaning to write about since last January, but there always seemed to be something that came up. Now with back-to-school time looming I figured it was about time to tackle it.
By now most people have heard this term. Text neck is a condition caused by looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other wireless devices too frequently and for too long. It can be the cause of neck pain and damage. It also contributes to poor postural form, which for singers, of course, means less freedom in the instrument. It will affect breathing and constrict the larynx.
Hunching over isn’t something new. People have been doing it for ages to read, work at a desk and so on. The problem with texting is that it adds one more activity that causes us to look down. And it’s not just texting is it?
Just a couple of weekends ago I went to listen to some live jazz at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden. Just about everyone had their phone out. Apparently it’s a hot spot for Pokemon! If you thought Pokemon Go was great for getting kids out of the house and doing something active – think again. More text neck inducing activity!
Younger and younger children have access to phones and tablets. These growing spines are susceptible to possible permanent damage to their cervical spine that could lead to lifelong neck pain.
For adults a study has shown that 79% of people aged 18 – 44 had their cell phones with them for all but 2 hours of their waking day! This can result in neck, shoulder and upper back pain. It can also contribute to early onset of arthritis and subsequent chronic problems.
This issue was recently addressed by The Voice Foundation Symposium in Philadelphia in June 2016 and a subsequent article in Musical Theater Resources.
Being made aware of posture and making sure the ears are over the shoulders is a great first step. For some people however, this is of limited value if the musculature and even skeletal system are out of balance.
As you can see in the diagram the greater the angle of looking down the greater strain is placed on the neck. This can cause the vertebrae to slide out of alignment. It shortens and tightens the muscles at the front of the neck and chest. Meanwhile the muscles at the back of the neck and spine become stretched and weak. When standing in an upright posture you can often see an excessive lordotic curve of the neck and kyphotic curve of the upper back.
Spinal alignment can be temporarily achieved through methods such as chiropractic. However, the pull of the tight muscles and weakness of the stretched muscles will only cause the vertebrae to slip back.
So how can we correct this?
Following are a series of practical exercises to find that alignment. Some simple equipment is needed such as a resistance band and a foam roller.
First we will start with an exercise to develop stronger muscles at the back of the neck and upper trapezius.
The next exercise is to strengthen the back muscles that will help keep the shoulders back – that is the mid- and lower-trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.
The following exercise opens up the chest and can help with correcting a kyphotic curve (keep in mind that there should be a slight kyphotic curve through the thoracic vertebrae.
And finally we will finish with a series of neck and shoulder stretches.
Some things to keep in mind:
First of all, everyone is different and may have different areas of muscular imbalance. A postural assessment by a qualified trainer, physical therapist or chiropractor may be necessary. A voice teacher, though knowledgeable about alignment, may not necessarily be trained in postural assessment and exercise program design. A properly done assessment will require some degree of undress to see where issues may be arising (beyond the scope of what one expects in a voice lesson) and based on that an individualized course of action can be implemented.
Secondly, though these exercises may help text neck, complete core conditioning is essential for optimal posture. Weak muscles of the lower back and abdomen can also contribute to rounded posture. You may like to check out the video 10 Uses of Resistance Bands in the Voice Studio.
Finally, as mentioned before, awareness is very important. Take frequent breaks from downward viewing positions. Try to hold your device higher or keep your laptop at an appropriate height so you don’t have to look down. Get up and move around and do some stretching. Fix your posture every time you think of it.
As always, a beautiful posture, free of unwanted tension, will help produce your free vibrant sound.