Can You Exercise Your Neck to Combat Tech Neck?

You can exercise your neck, but it might not actually undo the damage caused by looking at your phone too much.

a person holding their neck with both hands, seemingly in discomfort
Photo: Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.

How often do you think about your neck? Like, maybe when you wake up with a crick in it from sleeping wrong, but basically never, right? Which is weird, because necks do a lot of work every day. Your head weighs 10 to 11 pounds, and your neck was designed to hold that weight with no problem. Except you might be effing things up and don't even realize it.

How Using Your Phone Affects Your Neck

The average person spends over 3 hours each day looking at their phone. There's a whole host of issues that come with that, not least of all the fact that you're literally changing the anatomy of your neck.

Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on your neck muscles to the sum of 60 additional pounds of force. "It really changes the way the neck, the muscles, and the bones sit," says Tanya Kormeili, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Think about your body when you're looking at your phone: You're essentially holding your neck, shoulders, and cervical spine in a misaligned isometric contraction," says Adam Rosante, a celebrity strength and nutrition coach. "Do this long and often enough and you can strain them and start to develop muscular imbalances which give you that perpetually hunched look and leads to neck, shoulder, and upper-back pain," he explains.

Even worse, all that looking down can affect the skin underneath your chin, causing it to sag. "Gravity takes a toll — as we get older, our collagen production goes down, along with our ability to tighten and firm the skin naturally, and the tissue becomes more lax," says Dr. Kormeili. It's typically something that comes with aging, but more and more young people are now dealing with "tech neck," aka lax neck skin, because of how often they're out of proper alignment, she adds.

How to Strengthen Your Neck Muscles

Strengthening the 26 or so muscles in your neck can help maintain proper alignment, says Rosante. "You should perform exercises that strengthen the main functions of the neck: flexion, extension, and lateral flexion," he says — especially since research shows that neck flexion posture is the most common cause of pain in mobile device users. Upper-back exercises can also help combat rounded shoulders and further correct your postural alignment.

Try working these four exercises into your daily routine:

Supine Flexion

A. Lie faceup on a bench with head and neck off one end.

B. Maintaining a neutral spine, tuck chin back. From here, tilt head back and then return to neutral. That's one rep.

Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Prone Extension

A. Lie facedown on a bench with head and neck off one end.

B. Tuck chin back. From here, tilt forehead down and then extend head back past neutral. That's one rep.

Do 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Lateral Flexion

A. Lie on a bench on left side with left arm hanging off the top of the bench (the edge of the bench should be tucked under armpit).

B. Maintaining a neutral spine, tuck chin back. From here, take right ear to right shoulder and back to center. That's one rep.

Do 5 to 10 reps, then switch sides; repeat. Do 2 to 3 sets, resting for 60 seconds between sets.

Band Pull-Aparts

A. Stand tall with feet hips-width apart, holding a light to medium resistance band out in front of body with tension at shoulders-width.

B. Squeeze shoulder blades together while pulling the band apart, ending with arms out at a "T" shape (imagine trying to crush a grape between shoulder blades). Return to starting position to complete the rep.

Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Can You Reverse Tech Neck?

Unfortunately, if you're already noticing saggy neck skin, "there's no clinical data to prove that strengthening your neck muscles will undo the damage," says Dr. Kormeili. "The skin has nothing to do with the muscle; it's a completely different layer on top of it," she explains.

There are two ways to make your neck skin look tighter, though, if that's what you want. "One is to build more collagen and the other is to tighten the superficial muscular aponeurotic system (SMAS), a fibrous musculature area in the face," says Dr. Kormeili. Both of these can be done now with noninvasive procedures, she adds. Ultherapy, for example, shoots ultrasound waves deep into the tissue to stimulate collagen production in the SMAS. Kybella, on the other hand, is an injection that permanently kills fat cells in the area and forms scar tissue, which causes tightening.

But the most obvious way to combat tech neck is also the easiest: Stop looking down at your phone so much. If you're on it, bring it up to eye level when you can. And when you're not on it, stand up tall so there's no curve in your spine between the top of your head and your shoulders. Good posture goes so far.

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