More than just a pain in the neck, tech neck is giving us wrinkled skin, double chins back pain and even affecting our breathing. Try these gadgets, exercises and treatments to take a load off your mind
Do you work on your laptop on the sofa or in bed? Is your head more bowed than upright over your phone? Do you get head, neck and shoulder aches more than you used to? Do you habitually stick your chin forward like a turtle? There probably isn't a person alive in the modern world who doesn't have some form of tech neck. Our heads are as heavy as a bowling ball and constantly looking down, combined with a hunched posture, takes a toll on not just our necks but our skin as well.
What does tech neck look like?
Recently office furniture company Furniture At Work released a 3D model to predict how office workers will look in 70 years' time if we don't do something about our tech-related posture now. The computer-generated avatar, named Anna, was, according to the brand, designed to show the impact of "technology screen exposure and poor posture" which is reflected in hunched shoulders, clawed hands, a protruding stomach, varicose veins and a tired, drooping face.
Although the image was widely criticised online as an attempt to discourage people (and most notably women) from working from home, and although Anna’s image was extreme, I can’t help but see a little of myself in her. This is why I've taken action and spoken to experts for the best ways to combat tech neck.
Tech neck: what it's doing to the skin
Tech neck can be seen as exaggerated lines on the neck (horizontal and vertical, this is where one of the best neck and decollete creams can help), sagging of the neck and jawline and creasing on the chest.
"When you look down at your phone or other devices, you create a repetitive stress injury that can lead to problems such as neck stiffness, wrinkles on the neck, sagging jowls, double chin and a dull complexion" says A-list facialist Su-Man, whose tech neck facial (below) treats both muscle tension and skin issues caused by tech neck. "Repeatedly looking down at your phone can also contribute to a loss of elasticity in the skin and lead to premature ageing."
The neck is a prime spot for this kind of damage because skin is thinner and has fewer oil glands. It’s also naturally stretchier which allows it to move as we turn and twist our necks. It’s also often neglected, sitting in a no-man’s-land between skincare and body care. It’s on show just as often as our faces, but unlike our faces which we're primed for covering in the best face SPF, we don’t protect it from UV rays and blue light exposure from our devices with the same level of diligence.
The damage isn’t just skin deep though, and sitting hunched over tech can also have a deeper, longer-lasting impact not just on our posture but on our breathing and our eyesight. “Constantly hunching over can make the chest muscles become tighter which can restrict your breathing over time," warns Su-Man. ‘We also must not forget that damaged eyesight is a direct result of prolonged use of small phone screens, causing eye fatigue, strain and dry eye syndrome. Many people have the habit of looking at their phones before sleeping, often in the dark, making the damage even greater.’ If you needed more persuasion to skip that pre-sleep scroll, let this be it.
7 ways to beat tech neck
1. Elongate your neck with a neck stretcher
Ten minutes lying over a cervical traction neck stretcher pillow such as this one by Restcloud, £23.99 can help put your poor overstretched neck back into alignment. Craning over our phones causes us to stick our chin out like a turtle, which compresses the back of the neck. A favourite of our Editorial Director Victoria Woodhall and approved by her osteopath Naqdia Alibhai Nadia The Osteopath - see her video below. She also adds an acupressure mat or shakti mat to the mix to relax tight shoulders too. Stick on a podcast, relax and walk taller when you're done.
2. Do the 'double chin' exercise to lengthen and strengthen your neck
When we habitually stick our neck forward the muscles at the back of the neck become short, dry, weak, and stuck, says Nadia the Osteopath. A neck stretcher (or cervical traction device) will help lengthen them and keep their range of motion, but you also need to strengthen the neck muscles to hold your head upright.
Repeat this exercise a few times daily. Press and hold the back of your head against something for ten seconds and then relax."You can use a pillow in bed, the back of an armchair, standing against the wall with a cushion behind your head or simply place your hands on the back of your head. Push into your hand forming a double chin. That's when you know you are doing it right," she says. "What that is doing is strengthening the muscles at the back of the neck, lifting and lengthening." You can see her demonstrating this in the video above.
3. Invest in a standing desk
Victoria has used Varidesk Laptop 30, £175, for years and it's significantly reduced strain in her back and neck. A sit or stand desk like this that goes onto your dining table and collapses down, and can be slid under the sofa when you are not using it, so great for small spaces. The optimum setup is to have your screen at face height with a separate keyboard, and although a laptop desk doesn't allow for this, it's possibly the most realistic solution for most of us for whom our laptop is our life.
If you do have a separate keyboard try the Bontech dual-height standing desk for £84.99 which is similarly storage-friendly. “The key is to ensure that your screen is at eye level, whether you’re sitting or standing,” says Su-Man. If you’re standing but still craning your neck up or down, you’re not going to reap the benefits.
Take regular screen breaks, no matter your desk setup. “It is important to take breaks and engage in some form of exercise every hour to promote blood circulation and relieve tension, " says Su-Man. This leads us to,,,
4. Take a 2-minute stretch break
How often do you actually get up from your desk and stretch your legs, never mind your neck and shoulders? “To prevent stiffness, tension, and pain, do the following exercises as many times as you can,” advises Su-Man. Ideally, once every hour. The routine takes less than three minutes.
- Bring your chin towards your chest a few times to lengthen the back of the neck and ease tension.
- Bend your neck to one side and hold for six seconds, then do the same on the other side. Drop your chin and hold for six seconds, then drop your head as far back as possible and hold for six seconds.
- Put your fingers on top of your shoulders and draw your elbows in big circles forward six times, then backward six times.
- Close your eyes for a minute and then look far away to soothe tired eyes and relax the muscles around the eyes.
5. Get a Digital Detox facial
The Digital Damage Resculpt Facial is an in-depth, 10-step process in the magical hands of pro-facialist Su-Man (above) who has worked on the faces of Anne Hathaway and Sienna Miller. As well as being a brilliant all-round 70-minute facial with a mask and extractions it incorporates EMS (electrical muscle stimulation)to loosen tight muscles with Su-Man’s famed hands-on massage techniques. Su-Man also massages your ears (a part of Chinese Medicine practice to stimulate pressure points that impact the rest of the body) and scalp.
I left the room with higher cheekbones, a more sculpted jawline, a notably longer neck, lower shoulders and a feeling of lightness in my entire body. A must-try for anyone who spends the majority of their day in front of a screen.
Digital Damage Resculpt Facial, with Su-Man, £350 for 70 minutes at Sofitel St James, London.
6. Consider 'Trap 'Tox'
If you’re willing to turn to injectables in the quest for a fresher-looking neck, then Botox is a good option. “There are sheets of muscle in our neck called the platysma muscle, and sometimes as time goes on, people can develop tightness here,” explains aesthetic doctor and GP Dr Ahmed El Muntasar. “When you inject Botox, it relaxes that band of muscle, making the neck look a bit smoother and a little bit longer.”
Botox can also be used in the trapezius muscle, which spans the top of the neck to the middle of the back, known as ‘Trap-Tox’ – most recently dubbed Barbie Botox, because of its neck sculpting effect.
“It can slim down the shoulder muscles to make them look a little more elegant,” adds Dr Ahmed. By causing the shoulders to slope, the neck then appears longer. Looks aside, there are physical benefits too. Botox here can be used to reduce tension in the shoulders and is a great remedy if you’re prone to headaches or muscle spasms.
Dr. Ahmed has clinics in London and Leeds. Botox starts from £200 theaestheticsdoctor.com
7. Turn to an at-home tool
For muscle stimulation at home try the Nuface Trinity Facial Toning Device, £249, which uses microcurrent to strengthen the muscles in your face and neck, as well as boost collagen production to tone and firm any areas of skin sagging. The process of using will also help to knead out any tension on the neck and jawline, making for a stress-reducing, shoulder-dropping moment of me-time.
For a cheaper and tech-free option try gua sha - any will do - but the stainless steel Hayou Body Restorer, £40 is one we love. Press and glide over tense areas until it brings up the 'sha' or redness which is said to be the tension escaping (apply an oil or cream first).
A great anytime tool for an instant DIY neck massage is the Nurse Jamie Uplift Massaging Beauty Roller, £55, which the LA aesthetician uses on her clients such as Khloé Kardashian, who called it her "magic wand of beauty". It has 24 massage stones that soften the neck and can be used to lift the cheeks and soften jaw tension too.