We’ve all read what seems like a million blogs and articles about how technology, cell phones, and social media are changing our world and ourselves. While some of these reports are over-sensationalized, there are some concrete ways that, as chiropractors and physical therapists, we are seeing our patients’ bodies change in ways that can only be contributed to increased amounts of time looking down at a screen. Nearly 90% of patients come in with some type of postural deviation, often what’s known as tech neck.
Tech Neck is a syndrome caused by overuse of the head, neck, and shoulders sitting and looking in a forward and down position. This positioning of the neck can cause muscle tension and spinal pressure, and if left untreated for too long can lead to back pain, migraines, and tingling in the fingertips.
We’ve been looking down to read books for years, so what’s the problem? The addition of texting to our lives is one more activity in our day that causes us to look down— and people tend to do it for much longer periods of time. The average person spends more than eight hours per day on an electronic device, and 80% of people studied have their phones on or near them for all but 2 hours of their waking day.
Especially concerning is the time young children and adolescents spend looking down at digital devices during a time when their bones are growing and forming, possibly causing permanent damage to their cervical spines that could lead to lifelong neck pain. Some studies suggest that tech neck could even lead to chronic problems due to early-onset arthritis in the neck.
Signs you might have tech neck:
Upper back pain ranging from chronic, nagging pain to sharp, severe upper back muscle spasms
Shoulder pain and tightness possibly leading to painful shoulder muscle spasms
Pain radiating down the arm and in some cases into the hand, possibly resulting from a pinched cervical nerve
What you can do to prevent tech neck:
Raise your screen higher. Hold your phone or tablet at eye level to avoid sloping the head forward and bending the neck down. If you work on a laptop get a second monitor and adjust the height to eye level.
Take frequent breaks. If you have to look at a screen for extended periods of time, take 2-3 minute breaks every half hour. Set an alarm to remind you to change your posture, move around and stretch.
Sit in a chair with a headrest. The ergonomics of your chair can help you maintain correct posture and avoid tech neck. Switch to a chair with a headrest and maintain a connection between the back of your head and headrest to prevent sloping the neck forward and down.
Strengthen and stretch your muscles. Over time muscle imbalances can develop due to habitual forward-tilted head posture. Strengthening and stretching your chest, neck and upper back muscles will help support the weight of the head and minimize the strain on your cervical spine. It’s important to develop daily routines to reverse the amount of time you’re looking down.
Simple exercises to try:
Pinch your shoulders blades back envisioning a pencil between the shoulder blades. Do this 10-12 times per day
Stretch your pectoral muscles by standing in a doorway, bending the arms at a 90 degree angle and placing the forearms on the door frame. With the arms in this position, stretch your neck muscles.
Use pain as a warning sign. If you experience pain in your neck, between the shoulder blades, numbness or tingling in the arms, or frequent headaches, there may be a more serious issue going on. Pay attention to these warning signs and act quickly to make changes to reduce or eliminate any head-forward posture straining your neck.
The most important things you can do to prevent and counteract tech neck are be active, stretch, apply heat or ice as needed, and limit your screen time. However, you may benefit from a more comprehensive treatment plan such as a combination of manual adjustments and massage therapy. If you are in pain or have symptoms of tech neck, give our office a call. One of our providers will be happy to discuss your specific symptoms and prepare an individualized treatment plan as necessary.