Ask Jean: Tech Neck?
Dear Jean, Is there such a thing as “tech neck,” and what can I do about it? When I’m not texting on my phone, I’m hunched over my computer.—Esther N.
Dear Esther, Tech body—curled around your device like an embryo around an umbilical cord—promises to make us all look and feel old before our time. Shoulders slump into a hump, stomachs protrude unsupported, and the neck folds and wrinkles as we look down, down, down: Grim.
Everyone in the goop offices is (understandably) concerned about this potential problem; I called NYC dermatologist Dr. Robert Anolik to find out how much of a problem it actually is. Sadly, he says, it’s real: “It definitely can play a role for some people,” he says. “We all develop aging of the neck over time, though—as a result of a combination of age and sun. So we can’t only blame our iPhones for the frustrations we see in the mirror. And horizontal neck lines are natural and seen even in infants.” That said repeated folding and motions can change the quality of skin, he says, using the “11” lines that form permanently between the brows as an example (he notes that Botox both erases the “11” lines and prevents them from developing further). “I view tech neck as a condition where the horizontal neck lines become more pronounced and the collagen can weaken to the point of some more visible crepe-texture and laxity” he says. In Anolik’s office, you can get Botox to treat the neck; he also uses Ultherapy and Fraxel to tighten neck skin.
At home, focus your prevention efforts on sun: When I put on my Ursa Major SPF 18 moisturizer on in the morning, I do my neck (and the backs of my hands) at the same time. While extending your face treatments (anti-aging or otherwise) down your neck will do something, remember the biggest anti-ager, period, is (non-chemical) sunblock. And not smoking.
Not looking at your phone/computer so much, while it might make some small difference, is a tougher order—a little Ursa in the morning is a whole lot easier.
Beyond the aesthetic consequences of “tech neck,” hunching over all the time has physical consequences, says Connor Fay (PT, DPT) of New York’s Phlex Physical Therapy: “Kyphosis is the medical term for an increased rounding of the upper back (thoracic spine),” says Fay. “As we age, the body submits to the position of comfort and least resistance due to gravity—which leads to rounded and internally rotated shoulders, a forward head position, and a hunched over upper back.” While it doesn’t look great, kyphosis also predisposes us to numerous overuse injuries of the neck and shoulders.
“I am constantly trying to correct this postural condition in all my clients—kyphosis is not limited to the elderly,” he continues. “It can occur in a younger population of individuals who work long hours sitting at a desk, for instance.”
A standing desk can make an enormous difference, Fay says; he also prescribes chin tucks, which he says strengthens the deep cervical flexors, stretching out the pectoral muscles, working with the trapezius muscles on a exercise ball, and (my favorite) gliding your forearm up a wall using an old pillowcase as a sort of a sled.
Tech neck, take (all of) that.