“It’s a tech world, and most people these days spend an average of two to four hours a day reading and texting on their smart phones” - Dr. Evan Johnson, director of physical therapy at The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York.
Computers and cell phones have been around for decades now, and as the technology behind them continues to advance, so does our need for these devices. It is the new normal to own multiple different electronic devices, and even more common to spend most of the day using them. Whether for work or play, people are spending more time on their phones and computers than ever before, and their bodies are beginning to show and feel the result.
Picture someone who works at a computer every day, or someone who spends hours scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. After spending the whole day in front of a screen, most of these people find themselves completely hunched over their devices, with their shoulders rounded and their heads hanging low. This is just as bad for your body as it sounds and sitting in this position frequently will eventually change your posture, causing you pain. Over time, this slumped posture will cause what is known as “tech neck" or sometimes known as Text Neck Syndrome.
Why Does This Happen?
Tech neck is a stress injury that is caused by bending the head down and forward for long periods of time. Symptoms of tech neck could include:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty turning head
Theoretically, this injury could occur from doing any prolonged activity with the head looking down, like reading or knitting. The reason the term was coined “tech neck,” though, is because of the issue primarily stemming from excessive technology use.
The average human head weighs about 11 pounds, and if this weight is distributed properly, the neck and shoulder muscles have little to no problem supporting it. The problems only start to arise when the neck starts to bend forward, pulling down that 11-ish pounds along with it. Looking down at a 15-degree angle takes the weight of the head and over DOUBLES it, and that number grows higher as your neck looks down more and more.
The combination of this particular posture style and the duration of time spent in it are what creates tech neck syndrome. In today’s culture, many people will spend hours on their phones or computers and simply forget to pay attention to their posture. Posture is a habit, and when your habit is leaning forward all day, it will eventually overstretch your back muscles and will physically change your posture.
If you work a desk job, or simply enjoy hobbies that involve a lot of screen time, all this can sound a little discouraging. It is not realistic to expect a person to give up their technology, and in many cases, it may not be possible. Luckily, avoiding technology is not the only solution, and you can change your daily habits to prevent further strain on your spine. There are exercises and stretches you can do at home, as well as other easy lifestyle changes that will alleviate the pain caused by tech neck.
Finding Your New Normal
It is possible to live pain-free without giving up your devices, but it will require some intervention on your part. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” which applies to ANY major change you would like to make in your life. In this specific case, your postural and daily habits are what have caused your pain, so changing these things is the obvious solution to dealing with that pain. Here are a few tools you can use to help you break your bad habits and find a new, healthier normal.
Posture and Daily Habits
The largest contributor to tech neck is the way you hold your head and neck while you use your devices. Posture is something many people don’t normally think about, but consciously monitoring your posture while you sit/stand is key to eliminating the pain the comes from tech neck. Position yourself so your shoulders, ears, and hips are in a straight line, with your eyes looking forward. If you have trouble with this, consider investing in a lumbar support cushion for when you are sitting, or set a reminder to check your posture throughout the day. When using a device while sitting, your can maintain this posture by holding your phone closer to your face, so your eyes stay forward instead of having to look down.
Your typical sleeping position is another habit to take into consideration. Since people spend so many hours each day sleeping, it is important to sleep in a way that does not strain the neck or back. Use a firm pillow that supports your head, and never sleep on your stomach.
If you work a desk/office job, decreasing your use of technology is usually not a plausible option. Instead, you can become more ergonomic to prevent pain and discomfort. Becoming ergonomic means adjusting your workspace to ensure efficiency and comfort while in the workplace, like by adjusting your computer to be at eye level or using a lumbar support chair. These changes are made to set you up for success, because they are designed to make it more natural and comfortable to maintain proper posture throughout the day. Other ways you can do this are by standing up from your desk every 30 minutes to move around/stretch or adjusting your chair to the optimal height for your sitting position.
Over time, poor posture will weaken the muscles that support your head and neck. Exercising and stretching the muscles in this area will not only help ease existing neck pain, it will also improve your posture over time which prevents future pain. Here are a few exercises you can try at home.
- Chin Tuck: While standing, tuck your chin down and inwards towards your chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times, twice a day. Avoid looking down while doing this exercise and keep your eyes focused straight ahead at eye-level. You will feel this stretch in the back of your neck.
- Chest opening: Stand or sit while clasping your hands behind your head. Squeeze your shoulder blades back as you open your elbows up out to the side. You should feel the front of your chest stretch. Bring your shoulders and head slightly backward and arch your upper middle back to increase the stretch. Hold 20 seconds and release slowly.
- Neck Extension: Sitting up straight with your shoulders back, extend your head backward and look up at the sky or ceiling. Push down on your forehead with some mild pressure. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 5 times. Do twice a day. Avoid tensing your neck and shoulders or pushing your head back with too much force.
- Side-to-Side: Standing up tall, relax your neck muscles as you tilt your head to the left, moving your left ear toward your left shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. Switch sides and repeat.
- Specific Resistance Strengthening Equipment: This includes Resistance bands, Neck Harness and the Iron Neck. There are specific instructions with each exercise equipment for stretching, Rehabilitation and Range of Motion Training
- Yoga: Doing yoga for at least 10 minutes will decrease stiffness and improve mobility in your neck and shoulder muscles.
Aerobic exercises are also a beneficial addition to your work-out routine. Running, swimming, biking, or walking are some good examples of aerobic activities that will not cause you neck pain or soreness the neck day. Also, when you do aerobic exercise, it sends oxygenated blood to your muscles and flushes out the chemicals that cause inflammation and pain. If you don’t already exercise, start with about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times per week.
What if I’m Still in Pain? Try Chiropractic Care…
Many times, homeopathic remedies, improved posture habits and exercises are not enough to treat the pain that results from tech neck. Chiropractors with their extensive training are the most qualified doctors to correct tech neck and the problems associated with it. Tech Neck causes misalignments (Subluxations) of the vertebrae in the neck (cervical spine) and upper back, irritating delicate and sensitive spinal nerves, so it is only natural to go to a chiropractor since they are trained to adjust the vertebrae in your spine so it is correctly aligned.
At Sheppard Chiropractic, we will be able to show you on a spinal x-ray exactly the problems tech neck may have already caused, and how far advanced your condition may be. We will be able to locate and correct your problem, stop the pain, and in most cases reverse the problems caused by tech neck to restore proper function to your nerves. Having your neck and back properly aligned on a consistent basis will reduce a lot of problems before they even begin and allow you to enjoy many of your daily activities with less pain. We know that looking at your phone in a head down position for hours every day is going to cause misalignments in the neck — sooner or later — at any age. And then it is only a matter of time before you start to feel pain, experience headaches, and other problems associated with tech neck. Take steps now prevent and reduce the effects of tech neck.
Living Your New Normal
Habits can be difficult to break, but it is possible with some effort. Adapting to a new normal when it comes to technology use can take some time, but the results are well worth it. Between preventative actions and proper chiropractic treatment, tech neck can become a thing of your past! Be mindful of your posture when you use your devices, limit the use of technology when possible, and exercise your body so it is better able to deal with extended periods of computer or phone use. If you continue to do these things, over time new habits will form, and you will notice your pain begin to lessen more and more. Wouldn’t you like your “new normal” to be one where you live life pain free?
As always, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to call or email, and I will try to help you with any questions. Thanks for reading, Dr. Joe