We’ve all seen it, especially more recently, with so many piano students (and teachers) spending so much time on our devices every day. Students are developing rounded shoulders and a hunched back.
Teachers are complaining of back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain from spending hours each day teaching online piano lessons. We’re twisting at the waist, sitting partially turned towards the screen, and we’re exhibiting overall poor piano posture.
I interviewed my physical therapist, Dr. Stephanie Elkins, to see how we can prevent these pain and posture issues.
In this 4-part series, Dr. Elkins is answering my questions about the causes of “Tech Neck” (the rounded shoulders and hunched back we’re all so familiar with), how to strengthen the weak muscles that contribute to back and neck problems, and how to reverse the painful issues that stem from spending so much time sitting in front of our devices with less than ideal posture.
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The rest of this article is in interview format. Please enjoy this informative and enlightening question and answer session between Stephanie and I. Did I mention Stephanie is my amazing younger sister? #proudbigsister
What is Tech Neck?
Melody: Let’s start with a term and a definition. What is the actual term for “tech neck”, the slouching and hunched shoulders we’re seeing in our piano students?
Stephanie: The term is thoracic kyphosis with forward head posture. Kyphosis happens where the thoracic vertebrae develop a curve from being weak, instead of being stacked on top of each other when the muscles are strong.
Melody: Over the past several months, I’ve noticed visible changes in my own piano students and I wanted to figure out how to help them with this issue before it becomes a permanent issue causing lots of pain and medical expenses. Why does our posture get worse as we spend more time on our devices?
Stephanie: Slouching, also called “tech neck”, is a learned posture. Think about how perfect the posture of babies is, until they get older and learn how to sit with poor posture and slouching. People sit in their beds to play games on their iPads. They sit in their recliners after work and play on their phones. They slouch on their sofas to watch movies.
But slouching and poor posture are not permanent. They can be reversed and prevented, unless the person has a certain type of birth defect or a specific medical condition.
Causes of Tech Neck and Slouching
Melody: What causes us to slouch?
Stephanie: Slouching generally starts with weak cervical muscles (tech neck) and then dominoes down the back. When you relax your shoulder blades, they fall forward, and you develop weak cervical muscles and weak middle traps.
When you have weak cervical muscles, your head comes forward which causes your shoulders to become more rounded and posture to become more poor. Women are generally more likely to experience slouching issues due to weaker periscapular musculature secondary to female anatomical development and physical maturation.
Melody: How do we address these issues?
Stephanie: These issues can easily be addresses through muscular strengthening and a focus on postural control.
Addressing the Neck
Stephanie: First we’ll address the neck with chin tucks, which help our cervical extensors.
Melody: How are chin tucks going to help tech neck?
Stephanie: Chin tucks strengthen the muscles of the neck. When you are in the forward flexed posture called tech neck, the muscles in the back of the neck are in a stretched position all the time.
Because they are stretched, they’re not being used to their capacity, so we must strengthen them. Otherwise, if you don’t work to strengthen them, the longer they’re in the stretched position, the weaker they’re going to become.
If you’re sitting in that slouched tech neck posture four to eight hours a day, every day, those muscles are going to become severely weakened.
How to Perform Chin Tucks
Stephanie: To perform chin tucks correctly, I always tell my patients it’s like you’re doing the funky chicken, or like you’re giving yourself a double chin.
You’re lying on a comfortable yoga mat, the floor, etc., pushing the chin straight back into the flat surface you’re lying on. You’re not tilting your chin, you’re pushing it straight back.
You’re pressing the entire back of your neck into the flat surface. Make sure there is no forward tilt of your nose.
Do a set of 10, and hold each chin tuck for 5 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times a day.
A special thank you to Kacee Rose, LPTA, for demonstrating the correct performance of this exercise in the following video.
MEET THE AUTHOR, STEPHANIE ELKINS, DPT
Dr. Stephanie Elkins is a physical therapist at CARE Physical Therapy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, as well as her Master’s in Education in Biomechanics from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Dr. Elkins has been a practicing therapist since 2009 and has practiced in multiple states and in various settings including outpatient rehabilitation centers, home health, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities. In 2019 Dr. Elkins became a certified dry needling specialist in the state of Mississippi.