Tech Neck: Are Your Devices Hurting You More Than You Know?

March 22, 2024
Avatar for Jyoti KinghornJyoti Kinghorn
Neck pain or tech neck

Tech neck or text neck refers to the chronic neck pain that many people experience because of poor posture usually caused by looking down on screens. When we bend our heads at a 45° angle- a common pose during scrolling or texting, the amount of force on the neck is increased by as much as 50 pounds. Bending the head at a 60° angle is even worse.

The weight of the head, usually about 10-12 lb., feels like 10-12 lb. to the bones, muscles, and ligaments of the neck when we look straight ahead. As we start bending our neck forward, there is more strain with every little additional forward bending. A 10–12 lb. head feels like a 50–60 lb. head to the neck bent at a 45-60° angle. The added weight experienced for many hours a day every day can strain the muscles and ligaments of the neck, and damage the joints that connect the bones in our spine causing inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Eventually, it can cause misalignment of the spine, pinched nerves, and herniated discs.

Signs of the tech neck

Symptoms of tech neck include:

  • Ache and pain in the lower back of the neck, the upper back, and the shoulders. The pain may be spread out, or feel like a sharp stabbing pain in specific areas. It may go away when lying down and get worse upon continuing to strain the neck.
  • Stiffness in the lower neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  • Headaches
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the arms and hands. (This is a severe symptom and should prompt an immediate consultation with a medical provider.)
Tech neck in young people and adolescents

The problem is widespread

Neck pain is a global cause of disability. With the increased use of computers, smartphones, and tablets, there is a rise in health problems including neck and lower back pain. This affects people irrespective of age. Even among university students, a young demographic who by all estimates should be active and healthy, a shocking 73% complain of neck or back pain. 64.7% of people who work on their computers at home report neck or back pain. How bad is the pain? About 40% say that their pain makes them less productive.

Baby on phone

Tech neck syndrome in children

Prolonged phone or tablet use can also cause tech neck syndrome in children and adolescents. It can also adversely impact their development. The use of phones or tablets for extended periods in children correlates with poor balance, respiration, increased stress, increased anxiety, and neck and lumbar pain. Maintaining the same head posture for extended periods is unnatural for children, but addiction to watching content on tablets and cell phones can mesmerize them into holding poor postures for long periods. This concern may be of special note for babies and infants as they have larger and heavier heads compared to the rest of their bodies.

Treatment and remedies

The underlying cause of tech neck is poor posture when using screens. To limit further damage and start healing, posture should be improved.

  • Raise the tablet or cell phone so that it is at eye level. This will avoid the need to bend the head forward and stress the neck.
  • When working, use an ergonomic chair of adjustable height so you can keep your computer at eye level and elbow bent at a 90°-120° angle. Using a standing desk can further afford some flexibility of posture.
  • Be intentional about your cell phone and tablet use. Develop new tech-use habits that put less strain on the neck and allow it to heal.
  • Try to maintain a good posture all day. Even if you forget and find yourself slumping, straighten up your back and pull back your shoulders again.
  • Spend considerable time living an active life away from digital distractions. Moderate exercise can prevent neck pain.
  • Work with a physiotherapist to figure out the best exercises to relieve pain, strengthen your neck muscles, and build upper body strength.

A treatment plan for tech-neck symptoms can involve exercises to improve posture, programs that can reverse posture, respiratory exercises, and modified cervical exercises.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if any of your symptoms bother you and hamper your quality of life in any way. If the neck pain is consistent and keeps coming back, you have pain or tingling in the arms or hands, fever, dizziness, nausea, or unexplained weight loss then it is time to see a doctor.

Getting treatment early can help prevent ongoing damage and promote faster recovery.

The information provided in our blog posts is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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