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Tips for Preventing Tech Neck Pain

October 22, 2021

By Justin Field, M.D.

While technology is often a crucial part of our personal and professional lives, it does come with a few downsides — and neck strain is one of them. Thanks to prolonged computer and phone use, “tech neck” has become an increasingly common issue. Fortunately, you can use a few tips and tricks to fix your tech neck posture. Keep reading to learn more about how to correct tech neck so you can feel better.

What Is Tech Neck?

Commonly referred to as text neck, computer neck or cellphone neck, tech neck results in neck pain from texting, typing and more, caused by repetitive movements and strain to the neck.

Approximately 30% of people deal with neck pain annually, making it a leading cause of disability. As technology use only grows, neck pain when looking down becomes more prevalent.

Some of the main causes of neck problems from looking down at a phone and other technology include:

  • Computers: The extended or continual use of a computer, especially one at an improper angle or height, can strain the neck muscles and lead to pain, stiffness and discomfort.
  • Phones and tablets: Another common cause of tech neck is the use of phones and tablets. When we use our phones or tablets, we often drop our heads to look down, causing an unnatural curvature to the spine. This curvature can lead to discomfort and stiffness over time.
  • Poor posture: The main cause of tech neck is an unhealthy posture that doesn’t properly support the neck and head. While office workers are prone to tech neck, chronic neck pain can occur among anyone who regularly uses a computer, phone or other forms of technology that require extended periods of looking down.

Why Is Tech Neck a Problem?

The main reason tech neck is a problem is because it may exacerbate or accelerate certain degenerative conditions.

The head’s weight plays an important role in chronic neck pain. The head’s tendons, ligaments and muscles are designed to support the head’s weight, which is approximately 10 to 12 pounds when in a neutral position at the top of the cervical spine. When you bend your head down at a 45-degree angle, your neck must support 50 pounds. A 60-degree angle means the neck is straining more, supporting approximately 60 pounds of force.

While the neck is a strong part of the body, it can’t maintain that amount of stress and force for prolonged periods, which is why we experience neck strain and discomfort. If you don’t address and correct signs of tech neck, your pain will worsen over time, potentially leading to a reduced range of motion for the neck, shoulders and upper back.

What Muscles Are Affected by Tech Neck?

Numerous muscles within the neck and upper back may be affected by prolonged tech neck posture. Though these muscles are designed to work in unison to move and extend the head, they can be particularly vulnerable to strain from looking down for extended periods of time.

Some of the most common muscles affected by neck pain from computer and other technology use include:

Upper back extensors

The upper back extensors include the trapezius, latissimus levator scapulae and rhomboids. Repeated stress on these upper back extensors can lead to or worsen tech neck pain. Specifically, noticing rounding in the upper back can point to the weakness of the thoracic extensor.

Sternocleidomastoid

The sternocleidomastoid, simply referred to as the SCM, runs from the sternum and clavicle to the mastoid process, the bony landmark behind the ear’s base. This muscle can easily be strained or overworked when looking down for extended periods of time.

Upper trapezius

The upper trapezius is a muscle that runs from the top of the shoulder blade, ending at the skull’s base. This muscle helps extend the cervical spine and the head. Additionally, it helps lift the shoulder girdle.

Levator scapulae

While the upper trapezius is often the cause of neck pain or stiffness, the levator scapulae may also be a muscle that leads to potential neck strain. The levator scapulae are responsible for cervical extension, scapular elevation and more. The levator scapulae and upper trapezius have several joints in common and often work similarly in the tech neck position.

Deep cervical flexors

Other muscles that may lead to tech neck pain are weak or underused muscles that allow tight muscles to pull the head out of its ideal posture into a downward tilt. This often occurs in people who regularly stare downwards rather than leaning forward toward the screen. These weak muscles are the deep cervical flexors, including the longus colli and longus capitis.

Tech Neck Symptoms

In many cases, tech neck symptoms may be mild in nature in their initial phases, often worsening as the condition advances. With tech neck, individuals may experience jaw pain due to cervical spine misalignment. Additionally, tingling pain and numbness in the arms and hands are possible. 

While tech neck symptoms vary from person to person, some of the most common include:

  • Neck pain:

    One of the main symptoms of tech neck is chronic pain, soreness, or stiffness within the neck. While some patients may describe the sensation as a general ache or soreness over a broad region, it can also manifest in one spot and feel severe and sharp. In some cases, patients may feel neck pain spanning from the bottom of the neck into the shoulders.

  • Sharp pain with neck flexion:

    Specifically, smartphone neck pain may be more severe or sharp when flexing or rotating the neck. In this case, pain and discomfort tend to worsen when the neck is flexed forward when looking down, texting or working on a laptop.

  • Limited range of motion:

    Another common complication of tech neck is a limited range of motion in the neck, shoulders or upper back. Many patients may experience reduced mobility or soreness, tightness or pain when moving the neck.

  • Tech neck headaches:

    Many people also experience headaches as a result of tech neck. The muscles located at the neck’s base can spasm and become painful from improper posture. Excess time spent craning the neck on technological devices can increase eyestrain risk, causing or worsening headaches.

  • Rounded shoulders:

    Various muscles within the neck, upper back and chest can become weakened and imbalanced from poor neck and head posture. These weakened muscles can make it more difficult to maintain proper posture, potentially worsening symptoms of tech neck.

Long-Term Effects of Tech Neck

When tech neck is left untreated, and the source of the problem isn’t corrected, short-term symptoms can worsen over time. If left untreated, tech neck can cause the spinal discs to bulge or herniate, worsening painful symptoms. Another long-term effect of untreated tech neck can lead to the development of cervical radiculopathy. It’s crucial not to ignore the signs of tech neck to ensure your well-being.

Tech Neck Exercises to Avoid and Alleviate Pain

While tech neck is common, there are many simple exercises and stretches you can perform at home to alleviate this tension. Adding them into your routine can help prevent further strain or injury to the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back. Another benefit of tech neck exercises is they can help alleviate pain in the short term while improving flexibility and strength. 

If you’re experiencing tech neck symptoms, you may want to consider these five exercises:

1. Downward-Facing Dog

Many people experience text neck relief from performing a downward-facing dog stretch. To perform this stretch, begin on all fours, tucking your toes and lifting your hips as if you were pointing your rear to the ceiling.

From this position, push your heels back toward the ground. Allow your head to drop and elongate the neck. 

As you hold this pose, it’s important to breathe deeply for at least three breaths. Then, gently release, returning to all fours.

2. Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is a simple tech neck exercise that can help alleviate tension in the neck and upper back. Begin on all fours with your hips parallel with your knees, wrists parallel with your shoulders and the tops of your feet gently resting on the ground.

Use your abdominal muscles to curve your spine towards the ceiling and tuck your tailbone in as you breathe out. Gently move into the cat phase of the stretch by letting your belly drop down to the floor as you inhale with your head and tailbone reaching towards the ceiling.

3. Bow Pose

The bow pose is a helpful tech neck treatment that can alleviate tension and strain. Perform this pose by lying flat on your stomach with your hands resting on either side of you and your chin on the floor. Begin to bend your knees and bring your heels close to your rear.

Then, reach backward with both hands to gently grasp the outside of your ankles. Breathe in and lift your heels toward the ceiling, lifting your thighs, chest and upper torso off of the floor. Gently release the pose and repeat the movement.

4. Cobra Pose

The cobra pose is a simple exercise that can stretch sore or strained muscles. To perform the cobra pose, lie face down on the floor with your legs extended behind you. It’s important to make sure you keep your legs down and position your hands flat on the ground under your shoulders.

Keeping your chin tucked, look down to the floor and slowly take your hands off the ground while squeezing your shoulder blades together. While lifting your upper body, you’ll also raise your lower legs and contract your glutes. Release the pose and repeat this exercise up to 10 times.

5. Chin Tuck

The chin tuck is a simple stretch that may be ideal for those who can’t comfortably perform more intensive stretches or exercises.

While standing, you can gently tuck your chin in toward the rear of your body, holding the pose for 10 seconds and repeating the exercise five times.

The chin tuck helps to reverse the upper back’s curvature and straighten your neck.

How to Correct Tech Neck Posture

The main cause of tech neck is improper posture and neck and spinal misalignment, leading to pain and stiffness. Creating an ergonomic workstation can help promote proper posture and alleviate neck pain. When working at a computer, you should have the monitor an arm’s length away from your eyes with wrists straight and hands at or below the elbow. Adjust your chair’s height, so your knees are just about level with your hips.

When using your phone or a tablet, keep your head and chin level. Lift the device in front of you to look at it instead of straining your neck by looking down at a 60-degree angle. No matter the technological device you’re using, ensure natural alignment of your spine and neck and keep all devices comfortably at eye level.

Other Tips to Help With Tech Neck Pain

While simple exercises and stretches and creating an ergonomic workstation are effective ways to improve and prevent tech neck pain, you may want to consider other tips, as well. Adjustments to your daily routine can provide significant improvement to neck soreness, stiffness and pain. If you experience tech neck symptoms, you may want to consider the following tips and tricks:

Limit screen time

One of the main ways to ease tech neck pain is to limit your screen time. When you don’t need to use a phone or computer, typically after work, consider limiting extra time to allow your neck enough time to rest in proper alignment.

Take breaks

While many people may not be able to limit screen time due to work or other responsibilities, they can still take regular breaks to stretch and look away from their screen. A five-minute break every 30 to 60 minutes can help reduce the severity of tech neck symptoms.

Practice healthy posture

Proper posture is an important aspect of overall wellness, directly affecting spinal and neck health. Whenever possible, you should remind yourself to practice ideal posture with your chin tucked in and shoulders pulled back. This posture helps to keep the body and neck aligned in a neutral position.

See a professional

If tech neck pain worsens or impacts your daily life, you may want to consider seeing a spinal specialist. A spinal specialist can help determine if you may be experiencing other conditions in addition to tech neck. These professionals can also suggest numerous non-invasive or minimally invasive spinal treatments to improve chronic neck pain.

Innovative Spinal Treatments and Surgery

The Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) is a world-leading provider of innovative spinal treatments for various spinal conditions. In addition to minimally invasive treatments, we’re proud to offer endoscopic spine surgery to help our patients lead a healthy and pain-free life. The DISC team can effectively diagnose and treat various spinal conditions, including pinched nerves, spinal stenosis, sciatica, degenerative disc disease and more.

If you’re experiencing persistent or chronic neck pain, schedule an appointment online today or call (602) 944-2900.

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