“How does ‘text neck’ affect tri, and what can I do to fix it?”
“Text Neck” is the modern, digital-age term to describe a repetitive stress syndrome caused by looking down at mobile devices. A Florida chiropractor named Dr. Dean L. Fishman coined the term in the mid-2000s when smartphones first appeared and already started taking their toll.
Headaches, neck, and shoulder pain are only a few of the common complaints associated with Text Neck Syndrome. These symptoms arise from increased pressure and muscle tension associated with a loss of neutral spine alignment. An average head weighs 10-13 pounds and is intended to sit above the shoulders in a neutral spine position. As the angle of exion increases when looking down at your device, the weight increases exponentially. In other words, looking down at a 30 degree angle, your head puts increased tension and pressure on the muscles supporting it.
Understanding what a neutral spine looks and feels like is the first step: Start in a standing position in front of a mirror, and practice pulling your chin in towards your spine, as if giving yourself a “double chin.” Be sure you are not causing more flexion by over-contracting these muscles—the contraction should be subtle. If you are having difficulty, pull your chin in all the way and then back off 20 percent. Ears should be over shoulders and shoulders over hips. From this position, draw your shoulder blades gently down and in towards your spine.
Adapt this position to your swim, bike, and run. Other considerations to assist with achieving a neutral spine and beating text neck include a bike fit and increased hip mobility, especially for riding in the aero position.
DIY Text-Neck Fixer
Start this exercise while on your back. Roll up a hand towel and place behind the curve of your neck. The towel should “fill out” your curve but not lift your head from the floor. Retract your chin as to press the back of your spine into the towel. This should be a 50-percent effort. Hold each contraction for 2-3 seconds. Perform 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Dana Dambrauskas is a gold Ironman All-World Athlete, physical therapist, and owner of Transitions Physical Therapy in Lake Mary, Florida. Transitionsportspt.com