So, you’re suffering from neck pain when gaming. You’re not alone. In fact, 41% of collegiate esports players reported back or neck pain .
Esports athletes and gamers are extremely susceptible to gamer neck compared to the general population due to the long durations spent at the computer or console. Gamer neck is not something that suddenly appears.
It is a progressive decline due to adopting poor gaming posture over long periods of time. You may not even know you have gamer neck if you haven’t seen yourself side-on in the mirror!
Luckily, gamer neck is a completely preventable and fixable postural condition just by implementing a few, easy ergonomic and exercise interventions.
Table of Contents
- How To Fix Gamer Neck
- How To Fix Neck Pain From Gaming
- Summary Box
How To Fix Gamer Neck
Gamer neck, nerd neck, or text neck are all the same names for the condition of having forward head posture. It is characterized as a flexed or rounded spine in the lower neck with the opposite in the upper neck .
It can become problematic when this is posture is adopted chronically as it alters the muscles in the neck potentially causing pain and even tension headaches.
But gamer neck is completely preventable and fixable with the right interventions! Here is exactly how you can fix your gamer neck.
Correct Gaming Posture
In order to fix and prevent gamer neck, one must optimize their gaming posture through correct ergonomics of the chair and peripheral setup.
The correct setup will allow you to maintain a neutral head position where the head and neck position should align your ear with your shoulder when looking at a side-on view .
Unfortunately, posture rapidly declines within 30 minutes of esports practice or competition slumping into forward head posture .
As competitive matches can last up to 6 hours, and many esports athletes practice for hours at a time, this posture being held for prolonged periods is likely to cause neck problems.
That is why you must do your best to have your chair and peripherals setup up optimally for your body type and gaming space.
Strengthen Your Neck
As the head drifts forward, it changes the length-tension relationship of the muscles around the neck which causes tightness in some muscles and weakness in others .
The length-tension relationship is simply at which point in the muscle’s length is the strongest. For example, you are generally strongest with the elbow bent at 90° when performing a bicep curl compared to your elbow being completely straight or fully flexed.
As you develop a forward head posture, this stretches and lengthens the semispinalis capitis (the portion of your spinal erectors at your neck) while shortening the sternocleidomastoid (neck muscle responsible for extending the neck backward (looking up).
This places the sternocleidomastoid in a short, weak position and the semispinalis capitis in a long, weak position. This posture further pulls your jaw backward causing jaw pain by the ear.
One way of counteracting this forward head posture is to strengthen the neck muscles through a full range of motion that promotes proper head and neck posture.
The protraction/retraction exercise is perfect for esports athletes and gamers as it directly addresses strengthening the semispinalis capitis into proper position.
All you need is an elastic strength band that you can loop around anything sturdy in your home. Place it around your head while facing the band. Let your head drift forward and then pull your head back into a chin tuck.
The second neck strengthening exercise for forward head posture would be the supine neck flexion exercise. It may seem counterintuitive as the sternocleidomastoid is already short and weak so why would we train an already tight muscle?
Firstly, load through a range of motion is what develops mobility.
While stretching is often prescribed as the gold standard for increasing range of motion, unfortunately, it doesn’t do a great job at it due to not providing load at these newfound ranges of motion.
Meaning any improvements in flexibility by stretching are passive with minimal load tolerance. By loading the muscle through a range of motion, it now has the capacity to find and remain in its new position.
Secondly, by strengthening the muscle through a full eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) contraction, we are able to change the length-tension relationship. Eccentric exercise is able to change muscle architecture to enhance the strength capabilities at longer muscle lengths.
A perfect adaptation for the short sternocleidomastoid.
Thirdly, strengthening the deep neck flexors (what this exercise targets) has been shown to improve forward head posture .
All you need is a small weight plate. Lie on a bench with your head hanging off the back. Lower your head slowly so your chin is facing the ceiling and slowly bring your chin back to your chest.
Change Your Pillow
This is an easy change you can make that will ensure you don’t spend 8 hours a night in a position you are trying to fix or avoid.
A large pillow will push your head forward (especially if you are a back sleeper) leading to spending your night in a forward head position.
To avoid this, select a pillow based on your mattress softness. A very soft mattress may not even require a pillow if you are a back sleeper whereas a firmer mattress will require a pillow that keeps the neck in a neutral position.
If you want to dive further into optimizing your sleeping position and posture, I would highly recommend this book by Nick Littlehale called Sleep.
He works with professional athletes and clubs around the world (most notably Manchester United) and teaches you how to set up your bed for optimal sleep.
Loosen Your Pectoral Muscles
Sitting for 5 minutes with a forward head posture dramatically reduces shoulder external rotation strength . This is likely partly due to the rounded shoulder posture that accompanies forward head posture or gamer neck.
Research has shown that stretching the pectoral (chest) muscles has a positive influence on forward head posture .
A simple doorway stretch can be used daily.
However, as per the neck strengthening section, loading through a full range of motion is going to provide far greater benefits than just stretching.
Many people will tell you to avoid all chest strength exercises when you have rounded shoulders or “bad” posture.
In my professional opinion, this is bad advice and, in my experience, the only thing that has improved my “tight” chest area is performing chest strength exercises.
That doesn’t mean going to the gym and bench pressing three times per week. It’s about selecting the right exercises for the goal in mind.
Dumbbell Chest Fly
Some exercises may be out of the question due to the rounded shoulder posture as they may cause pain in the shoulders instead of stretch in the chest. A simple dumbbell fly is one exercise you can perform with a 2-3 second pause at the bottom.
IMPORTANT: only lower the dumbbells until you feel a slight stretch. You don’t want to push this exercise when you are not accustomed to it.
Here’s a pro tip: when lying on the bench, pin your shoulder blades together. This will help pull your shoulders back so you can open your pectorals to be stretched during the fly movement. You can also use cables if you have access to a gym.
Hands Elevated Push-up
The push-up is another exercise that is demonized regarding gaming posture. However, they can be performed in a manner to improve a rounded shoulder and forward head posture by elevating the hands.
Now you have an increased range of motion to place a greater stretch on the pectorals.
If you struggle to perform regular push-ups, then you should not perform this variation. Further, if you have any shoulder pain or very poor mobility in the shoulders, then you should also avoid this.
This exercise is for those that are pain-free and need an extra challenge for their shoulder mobility.
If you’re involved in any way in weight training, you may have heard to pull more often than you push so you don’t develop this rounded shoulder posture that seems to accompany forward head posture.
Unfortunately, this age-old dogma doesn’t take into account the anatomy of the main muscle involved in pulling movements- the latissimus dorsi.
The latissismus dorsi, or lats for short, are the large muscles that run down the side of your back. They attach to the front of your shoulder.
Due to their attachment point on the shoulder, tight lats can be another issue that causes shoulders to round forward. By performing a lot of pulling movements, you can shorten the lats creating this problem.
The fix? Lat stretching strength exercises. Specifically, the dumbbell pullover. Lying on a bench, you want to hold the dumbbell vertically with a hand position similar to Tien’s special move in Dragonball Z.
Lower the dumbbell with semi-bent arms behind your head. Don’t go too deep. You should stop when you feel a good stretch and bring the dumbbell back up above your head in an arc motion.
Band Shoulder Dislocate
This is my favorite mobility exercise for opening up the chest and shoulders. I would recommend performing these in every gaming break you have and before you start as a warm-up.
Simply take a light resistance band at a hand width that feels comfortable to you. Start wider than you think. Circle your arms from the front to the back while keeping your arms straight.
Wear A Posture Corrector
This isn’t a one-stop solution to fixing gamer neck but it can provide a subtle constant reminder to not slouch forward while gaming.
The Donnie Thompson Bow Tie is the best you’ll find on the market as it was designed for large strength athletes with the best strap material you can find by Spud Inc.
You can wear this while gaming or even when doing chores around the house.
How To Fix Neck Pain From Gaming
It has been shown that forward head posture is related to neck pain .
This is likely because every inch your head moves forward, there is an extra 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of weight placed on your neck .
Traction of the neck is simply decompressing the discs in the spine. I have used the neck hammock extensively myself and found it provides a great relaxing effect on the neck muscles.
The best thing about this piece of neck traction equipment is that it attaches directly to your door so you don’t need any expensive training equipment to use it.
Simply loop the strap around the door handle and close the door. If your door doesn’t close properly, make sure that you are lying on the side that the door doesn’t open.
This can be a good way to wind down after a long gaming session or tournament.
This is by far the best neck training device you can get your hands on. The Iron Neck lets you train your neck through a full 360° range of motion which you cannot do with any other piece of neck training equipment.
The Iron Neck is the ONLY neck training equipment that fixes any neck pain of mine from sitting at a computer too long or sleeping funny. And I’ve tried massage, lacrosse balls, and the neck hammock.
The best Iron Neck exercise for gamers are my two personal favorite exercises to use with the Iron Neck.
The 360° spin trains the whole neck isometrically (producing force without movement on the muscles). Isometric strength can help develop the capacity of the neck to remain in optimal gaming posture.
Further, isometric exercise has been shown to have an analgesic effect. Meaning it reduces the feeling of pain .
For esports athletes and gamers, I would recommend the Iron Neck Pro which is the model I have. It allows the most versatility with not only band resistance, but a friction dial that increases the resistance when performing rotational exercises like this next one.
Left & Right
Because the sternocleidomastoid is also responsible for neck rotation, we can strengthen this muscle for its other function to further fix gamer neck and reduce neck pain.
You can perform this like in the video with little resistance from the friction dial and moderate band resistance.
Or, you can perform the exercise facing away from the resistance band placing more stress on the front of the neck while you look over each shoulder. That is my favorite variation of the left and right.
- Posture declines rapidly just 30 minutes into a gaming session.
- Proper ergonomics, strengthening the neck through large ranges of motion, and loosening the chest are easy ways to fix gamer neck.
- Neck pain can be reduced using a device like the Iron Neck to provide an analgesic effect through isometric exercise.
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