How To Fix ‘Tech Neck’ (And Eliminate The Pain That Comes With It)
Got ‘Tech Neck’? You might not even know it!
If you spend every day staring at your computer screen for hours on end, you probably know the agony that is ‘tech neck,’ even if you don’t know it by name. It’s a term that’s come to refer to the pain, stiffness, and chronic musculoskeletal problems that can result from bending forward to look at an electronic display for too long. And as a Brookfield chiropractor, it’s a problem I work with patients to fix literally every single day.
It’s the effect of spending too much time looking down at phones or tablets, or craning your neck and upper back forward to stare at a computer screen.
Sound familiar? Here’s why “tech neck” can be harmful to your long-term health, what to look for, and how to fix it.
Why Is ‘Tech Neck’ a Problem?
Tech neck can cause headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, upper back pain, tingling in the arms and hands, and even a loss of the spine’s natural curve.
The severity of the symptoms will vary from person to person, but they tend to happen worse and more often the more time you spend in front of a screen.
In a 2019 study published in PLoS One that included survey data from more than 500 people, researchers found a strong connection between the amount of time someone spent using their phone and the duration and severity of their neck pain. The study’s authors suggested that people pay more attention to healthy sitting positions and the amount of time they spend on their cellphones in order to reduce neck and shoulder pain caused by tech neck.
‘Tech neck’ can also cause posture issues. Spending hours on your phone or straining your neck forward at work causes muscle imbalances – specifically, tight pecs, suboccipitals and upper traps along with weak cervical flexors, rhomboids and lower traps. This can lead to an increase in pressure on vulnerable structures in your cervical spine.
So How Do You Prevent ‘Tech Neck’?
First, stop staring down at your devices. Instead, hold or position your phone at eye level (which is better for your arms and shoulders) and position your computer screen high enough so that you can look straight out at it rather than down. Keep your head balanced over your spine rather than allowing it to drop forward.
A 2014 study on tech neck published in Surgical Technical International found that when you hold your head in line with your shoulders, it only weighs about a dozen pounds. But for every degree you tilt it forward, the amount of weight it places on your cervical spine increases. This weight is approximately 27 pounds at a 15-degree angle, 40 pounds at a 30-degree angle, 49 pounds at a 45-degree angle, and 60 pounds at a 60-degree angle.
Over time, this posture can lead to early wear-and-tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery.
It’s critical to be mindful of your posture throughout the day and to correct it as soon as possible when you find yourself slipping into flexed-forward positions.
Signs your spine is misaligned
The most obvious sign that your cervical spine isn’t working like it’s supposed to is pain. Your neck, shoulders, and back should be pain-free. Pain is abnormal. You also may notice an exaggerated curvature or rounding of the spine at the base of your neck, which is a common sign of tech neck and chronic cervical spine misalignment.
Other ‘tech neck’ symptoms include:
• Tension Headaches
• Upper Back Tension
• TMJ Pain, Tightness or Clicking
• Hand Numbness or Tingling
• Arm or Hand Weakness
• Shoulder Pain or Tendonitis
Seeing a doctor as soon as symptoms arise is important, beginning with a chiropractor that’s trained in posture and spine health like we are at Ascent Chiropractic. The sooner a problem like tech neck is addressed, the less likely it is to progress to more serious long-term health problems such as arthritis or disc degeneration.
8 Stretches, Exercises, & Tips For Fixing Tech Neck
Below are some simple stretches and exercises for preventing and correcting tech neck. Remember that stretching should not cause pain. If your symptoms increase or you experience new pain while doing one of the neck or posture stretches below, stop and consult your doctor.
Aim for 10 reps of each of the stretches below, 1-3 times per day.
1. Chin Tucks
Begin by standing or sitting up straight. Make a double chin by drawing your head straight back. You offset the impact of repeatedly straining your head forward in this position (as you may do while looking at a screen). Don’t tilt your head back when doing this; instead, keep your chin tucked in but parallel to the floor. Hold for five seconds before releasing. Then repeat.
2. Resisted Cervical Lateral Flexion
Place your right hand flat against your head’s right side. Tilt your head to the right shoulder and push against your hand. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly release and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Resisted Cervical Flexion
Place both hands on your forehead and try to push your head forward while resisting with your hands, keeping your chin parallel to the floor. Hold for 5 seconds before repeating.
4. Cobra Pose Stretch
Begin by lying on your stomach on the floor, looking down. Lift your head and upper chest off the ground using only your hands for support. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. It stretches the back and neck in the opposite direction of the one that creates “tech neck,” aiding in the correction of the imbalance.
Lie on your stomach and alternately raise your right arm and left leg off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then lower and repeat with your left arm and right leg.
6. Shoulder Rolls
Roll your shoulders up and back as you shift your head back throughout the day. This keeps your muscles moving and your spine and shoulder blades positioned correctly.
7. Take Posture Breaks
Get up and move at least once an hour. Stretch and roll your neck to loosen up tight muscles and help reverse the poor cervical alignment that causes tech neck.
8. Limit Screen Time
Your job may demand you to spend a significant amount of time each day in front of a computer screen. If that’s you, try to spend your free time doing tasks that don’t require you to stare at a screen. Use that time to do something enjoyable that is also beneficial to your physical and mental health, such as going for a walk, talking with friends in person, or playing a sport. Your neck will thank you!
Fixing Tech Neck At Ascent Chiropractic
These are excellent first steps toward correcting tech neck on your own, but studies have shown that the most reliable long-term way to fix tech neck is through a combination of correcting muscle imbalances and restoring underlying joint movement and positioning with chiropractic treatment.
Correcting a musculoskeletal condition is a two-part process: restoring joint mobility and correcting muscle imbalances. If you merely address joint motion (chiropractic adjustments) while disregarding the muscles that regulate and support the spine with active rehab exercises, you’ll never correct the problem long-term.
Conversely, if you only do muscle rehab – stretching tight/shortened muscles and strengthening weak/lengthened muscles – without correcting the joint dysfunction that’s causing problems, you’ll be stuck with low-level chronic inflammation for the rest of your life because things still aren’t working properly, biomechanically.
That’s why we make it a priority at Ascent Chiropractic to address both.
Discover the difference individualized, comprehensive care makes at Brookfield chiropractor Ascent Chiropractic. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or use our online scheduling app.