Tech neck – also known as text neck – is a commonly used term to describe neck pain that results from overuse of various electronic devices. If you’re looking down at your cell phone or iPad too much, or sitting in front of your computer too long – and you feel pain in your neck – you are likely suffering from tech neck.
So what’s the big deal? Is this even a real syndrome?
I’ll be honest. I had my doubts at first. I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years and when I first heard this term I thought it was a joke. But over the last 12-15 years I’ve seen more and more cases pop up and I can tell you with certainty that tech neck is, indeed, a real problem for people. Tech neck – when allowed to go unaddressed – can result in headaches, tension into your upper shoulders, or even pain and tingling into your arms and hands.
The good news – it’s not only entirely possible to get rid of it – but you can learn how to prevent it all together.
So what can you do about tech neck? Here are three simple tips.
Be mindful of your posture
When you’re constantly looking down or hunching forward – it eventually wreaks havoc on your neck. Being mindful of your posture is not only the number one way to cure tech neck – but it’s the best way to prevent it. The biggest problem with poor posture is that you don’t know it’s a problem until it’s too late. Postural problems take a lot of time to reveal themselves. The changes in your soft tissue and the wear and tear on your spinal joints that occur from being positioned poorly and repeatedly don’t happen overnight – and you rarely notice them when they are first happening. Truth be told, “bad posture” on occasion is not bad for you and should not cause you any major problems. Poor posture all the time is where you get in trouble. That’s why simply being mindful of how you’re positioned when using your favorite electronic devices can go a long way.
Our spines crave movement but also alignment. But we don’t want alignment at the expense of other joints – namely – our shoulders. It’s not always comfortable to hold your phone or iPad in front of your face – which is what you need to do if you want to maintain optimal neck alignment when using your device. While great for your neck – this position can cause strain and tension in your upper shoulders. For this reason I highly recommend using headphones. Especially wireless headphones. This allows you to keep your phone or iPad on your desk while freely sitting upright and talking. Headphones also allow you to use the speak to text feature quite easily so you don’t have to strain your thumbs or shoulders when talking to your friends, kids, or grandkids.
Interrupt your sitting and standing
Prolonged posture in any form is not great for you. Our bodies – especially our spines – crave movement. We hear a lot about the detrimental effects of sitting all the time – but standing all the time isn’t great either. When it comes to sitting, your lower back tends to hunch over time which forces your neck into that “forward head” posture when you’ve been sitting for more than 20 min or so. When you add an electronic device to the mix the effects are even worse. Because of this – standing desks have become much more common over the past few years. But I see folks having problems from standing too long also. If you don’t have great core engagement, for example, which is important when you’re standing for prolonged periods, you might hold tension in your jaw or neck to compensate. This can create unwanted tension and stiffness in your neck muscles. How do you combat all this? Simply interrupt your position. Try not to stay sitting – or standing – longer than 30 min at one time. Your body – and especially your neck – will thank you.
Recognizing tech neck early is crucial and if you catch it in time – it’s very easy to cure on your own. The problem is that it’s something that tends to creep up over time and not addressed until it’s too late. If you’re suffering from chronic headaches, or symptoms down your arms or into your hands – the tips I’ve given you here may not be enough to address the problem.
Don’t worry – you can still get help with these symptoms naturally and without pills and procedures – you will likely need some expert help. Talk to someone who understands posture and the importance of healthy movement in your spine – they are the best people to help you cure and prevent tech neck.
dr Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or reserve a seat in your upcoming Neck & Shoulder pain Masterclass, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-605-0402.