• What is Tech Neck?

    June 16, 2020 | By Tony Yong

    What is Tech Neck?

    In this day and age, it’s fair to assume that everyone either owns a smartphone or knows someone that does.  Like many smartphone users, you’ve likely experienced something called tech neck. Smartphone users spend hours each day hunched over their screens, which often results in stiffness and pain in the neck area. Most people don’t even realize how regularly we check our phones, handheld devices or laptops until this sort of discomfort arises. Still, when it does, the professionals at Innovation Physical Therapy in Edmonton, AB are here to help.

     

    What are the Causes of Tech Neck?

    The neck is a relatively fragile area of the body. A person’s neck supports their head and holds it upright.  The head is dense as well as weighty, so when we spend long periods holding the head at a 45-degree angle, it places an incredible amount of stress on the area.

    Since the introduction of smartphones, people everywhere have spent hours each day hunched over their screens. We check our phones regularly without even realizing it – it’s practically autopilot.  An unexpected outcome from this has been this particular physical ailment. Originally called “text neck,” the phrase had to be adjusted to address the expanding list of things we do while hunched over our screens.  From smartphones to tablets to laptops, they are all having an impact on our bodies.

    The upper region of the spine, known as the cervical spine, holds the head aloft and is the area most affected by tech neck. This area consists of seven vertebrae, which you can feel if you rub your hand along the back of your neck.  The neck supports the average 10 to a 12-pound head; however, this weight becomes much more substantial when tilted forward and no longer supported by the rest of the body. The amount of force exerted on the cervical spine as a result of this tilt can reach up to 60 pounds of downward force.

     

    Early Signs of Tech Neck

    Even though the phrase “tech neck” indicates the neck explicitly, the symptoms can often begin elsewhere. Your spine stretches from your head down through your back. If stress increases for one area, it is likely to be felt in other regions. In the case of “tech neck,” the bending of the cervical spine often manifests as pain in the upper back.  With this, some people will blame other reasons for the discomfort and may not address the actual source.

    Tech neck pain is specific, and often manifests itself as:

    • Pain in the upper back
    • Mild ache in the neck
    • Stiffness or sharp pain in the neck
    • Reduced mobility in the shoulder/neck region

    Typically, it’s easy to determine if you are suffering from “tech neck.” How do you figure it out? Determine if you’ve hunched over a screen for an extended period. If your answer is yes, it is highly likely that you’re suffering from this ailment.

     

    Ignoring Tech Neck

    By ignoring the early warning signs of “tech neck,” the symptoms will only worsen. The neck is an incredibly sensitive area, and as soon as you start feeling discomfort, you should try to alter the way you typically sit. If you must continue looking at your screen, place it somewhere in front of you where you’re not required to hunch over.

    Tech neck is a serious issue. It is possible to aggravate pre-existing conditions if ignored. Over time, repeated issues with tech neck may lead to consistent pain in the area, which can make it more challenging to manage. However, those with the following ailments must be more aware of tech neck than most people:

    • Cervical osteoarthritis
    • Cervical degenerative disc disease

    The associated stress of “tech neck” can aggravate both of these conditions. If you suffer from either, it is essential to carefully monitor the amount of time you spend bent over a screen.

     

    Treatment of Tech Neck

    If you find that you’re continually suffering from tech neck, it is possible to manage your symptoms and achieve long-term relief with cervical traction. Traction is the process of decompressing the spine by gently stretching vertebrae, which compression is caused by being too tightly together. Traction is an excellent solution for many problems, but it can be especially useful when used as a treatment for tech neck.

    Many people choose cervical traction when they don’t want to rely on medication or doctor’s visits to alleviate “tech neck.” The use of pain medication can provide temporary relief, but does not address the underlying causes.

    Some suggestions to limit the risk of tech neck:

     

    1. Raise your screen higher

    Hold your phone or tablet up close to eye level to avoid tilting your head forward or bending your neck down. If your arms get tired from holding the screen higher, you can purchase a holder to elevate your device or rest your elbows on a tabletop to prop your arms up comfortably. If you work on a laptop, get a second monitor and adjust the height.

     

    1. Take breaks often

    If you have to look at a screen for an extended period, take regular breaks. Get in the habit of taking a 2- or 3-minute break every half hour by setting the alarm on your phone to remind you to rest your neck. Use these breaks to change your posture and move around, keeping your muscles loose and spine aligned. Try this quick stretch on break: tuck your chin down, then slowly raise it upward. Then gently turn your head over one shoulder, then the other.

     

    1. Sit in a chair with a headrest

    The setup of your chair can help you maintain the correct posture and avoid tech neck. By switching to a chair with a headrest, you can keep the back of your head flush against the headrest while you use your screen. Holding your head in this position will prevent you from looking down with your neck flexed forward.

     

    1. Strengthen and stretch your muscles

    Muscle imbalances can develop over time due to long-term forward head posture.  It helps to strengthen and stretch your chest, neck, and upper back muscles to prevent these imbalances. Keeping these muscles in good shape helps support the weight of your head and minimize strain on your cervical spine.

    Another option is to perform exercises that target your abdominals and lower back. It may seem odd to work these areas of the body to prevent tech neck; however, these muscle groups play a role in supporting your upper body, including your neck.

     

    1. Use pain as a warning sign

    If you experience neck pain between your shoulder blades, numbness or tingling in the arms, or frequent headaches, there may be a more serious issue going on. Pay attention to these signs and act quickly to make changes to reduce or eliminate any head-forward posture straining your neck.

    Try all or some of the above methods and see which ones work for you. If your neck pain symptoms don’t improve, it may be time to seek help from a qualified health professional.

     

    For any questions or advice related to Tech Neck, contact one of our trained physiotherapists at Innovation Physical Therapy.