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4 exercises to combat 'text neck'

Looking down at our phones all day can be a literal pain in the neck.
by Brianna Steinhilber /
Image: A woman texts on a smartphone
Looking down at your phone puts pressure on the front and back of the neck and can increase the risk of discs bulging in the back.Cultura RM Exclusive/Chad Springer / Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive
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Even if you've never heard of “text neck,” you’ve definitely felt it. That tightness and tinge of pain that begins to creep up your neck and upper back after staring down at a game of Candy Crush for too long, or watching an episode of This is Us during your commute.

You likely don’t even realize how often you’re looking down at your phone to reply to an email, shoot out a text or look up directions each day. And those tiny movements can add up to be a real pain in the neck — and cause some serious issues in the long run.

“Looking down promotes a forward head posture. For every inch forward you hold your head, the weight carried down through the spine increases by 10 pounds” says Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai. “Looking down puts pressure on the front of the neck and gaps the back. This is especially troublesome as it can cause intervertebral discs to migrate backward, thereby increasing the chances for disc bulges. It also strains the back of the neck as the muscles on the backside are in a constant state of contraction, trying to pull and support the head (which weighs 8-10 pounds) in this too far forward position. That leads to muscle strain and pain on the back of the neck." And it doesn't end there. Wu goes on to say that text neck also "creates tightening on the front of the neck and chest which then leads to discomfort or dysfunction into the shoulders and middle of the back."

For every inch forward you hold your head, the weight carried down through the spine increases by 10 pounds.

You may not be able to completely eliminate looking down at your phone, there are exercises you can perform that will help counteract some of the tension placed on your neck and back, and prevent larger issues form arising.

“Because people are so reliant on their phones, they mentally are so lost in their work that they lose track of their posture. If you spend a long time in the 'text neck' position, you have to spend at least the same amount, if not more in the opposite position in order for the neck to stay in balance,” says Dr. Wu. “These exercises increase flexibility in the tight muscles (chest), restore postural alignment and increase firing of muscle stabilizers. Wu says we lose 10 percent of our height due to spinal compression and "this one exercise helps to unload our own joints and increase the space between the vertebrae (spinal bones).”

Exercises that counteract the effects of ‘text neck’

Pigeon Neck

Reverse the forward and down head positioning by pulling your chin back so that your head sits back between your shoulders. This aligns the head directly over the torso, which relieves the compression in the spine and the strain in the neck muscles on the backside.

"Nod"

Sit with good upright posture with your head situated directly over your torso. Nod your head yes to feel for how much motion you have in the top most neck joint (your skull connecting to your cervical spine). Hold the bottom of the nod which creates a small double chin. Do not nod so hard as to cut off your breath or jam your chin into your throat. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly release.

Chest Opening

Sit or stand with your hands clasped behind your head. Open your elbows out to the side and squeeze your shoulder blades back. Feel a stretch in the front of your chest. To increase this, bring your head and shoulders backward slightly to arch the upper middle back. Hold 10-20 seconds and then slowly release.

Spinal Decompression/Postural Correction

Sit at the edge of your seat. Have your legs apart with your feet turned out at a 45 degree angle. Next, hang your arms loosely at your sides with your palms facing forward. Sit up straight in a neutral position. Bring your head back so it's directly over your shoulders. Take about 10 deep breaths in and out. Now repeat.

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