Now more than ever, with quarantines and social distancing in full force, our digital device use is skyrocketing. As adults, we’re relying on our smartphones to communicate with our friends and loved ones (as well as fill those spare moments), and our laptops to work remotely. For kids, with homeschooling conducted via computers and tablets, they are just as vulnerable to spending hours staring down at a screen, or lurching their necks forward towards the monitor.
This prolonged screen time, or specifically, the way our head and neck sits while we engage with our digital devices, can make us prone to a neck misalignment referred to as tech neck. Today we’re sharing what it is, how to treat it, and how to prevent tech neck.
Tech neck describes regularly keeping your neck facing forwards and downwards. Sit down and hold your phone close to your stomach. Now raise it to a comfortable position that you’d normally use to check your smartphone. Do you feel your neck leaning forwards and your head pointing downwards? This is the tech neck position.
The consequences of chronically maintaining this posture include neck pain, stiffness, headaches, muscle spasms, shoulder pain, and back pain. This is because the muscles at the back of the neck must work extra hard to hold up the head when it is tilted downwards, compared to staring straight ahead without being pushed forwards.
When your neck is in a straight position with no degrees of forward curvature, your neck muscles are only working to support 4.5 - 5.5kgs, which is the weight of your head. At a 15 degree angle, this increases to 12kgs. At a 30 degree angle, your neck muscles must work hard to support over 18kgs. At 45 degrees? Over 22kgs. Finally, if you’re staring down at 60 degrees, that’s over 27kgs of force on your neck muscles - and you can bet that that will hurt over time.
Image credit to https://healthmatters.nyp.org/
If tech neck persists over a long period of time, the forward positioning of the head and the strain on the neck can lead to muscle tightness, putting more pressure onto the intervertebral discs in our neck and spine. This means these discs can wear out faster, or become damaged - like a bulging disc, or even a rupture. If this occurs, it can pinch a nerve, leading to neural symptoms like pins and needles, numbness, weakness, pain - and subsequent stiffness.
As our muscles get used to the tech neck position, they may also contract and lengthen accordingly, promoting us to stay in this alignment through a reduced range of movement around the neck. With our head leaning forwards, our hips may compensate by tilting forwards as the upper spine shifts backwards. This can throw out our complete vertebral alignment, and result in back pain, other alignment issues, and ultimately, chronic pain.
Preventing tech neck starts with the conscious effort to stop leaning the head forwards and downwards. Limiting your screen time is a great start, but we know this isn’t always possible. When using a digital device, keep it at eye level. You can place some books under your monitor or screen to bring it closer to eye level. There are also a number of holders for all digital devices that can help. When using a smartphone, hold it well up. If you need to be looking down, do so with your eyes, instead of your head.
Take breaks often. Take 5 minutes every 25 minutes to take a break from the screen, stretch, rest your eyes, and evaluate your posture. It is these small changes (and remaining mindful of alignment) that can make a world of difference when it comes to helping prevent the symptoms of tech neck.
If you’re already experiencing symptoms, we can help. The first step is to understand the effects that have developed on your body, and which muscles have been affected - or where the damage has occurred. This is done here at The Physio, with our experienced physio team.
We’ll then develop a treatment plan for you that aims to not only resolve your pain by addressing the damaged tissues, but also to help you promote your neck and back health for the years to come. This is very important for us, as technology isn’t going away anytime soon, so we must prepare and learn to manage it better.