Technology has changed significantly in the past 10 years. We live in an increasingly connected world, and it shows in the way our technology has changed. Smartphones, tablets, smart-watches and laptops have become a part of our everyday life. While this in many ways is a good thing, there are some unwanted side effects that have come with our increasing tech-dependent world.
Take out your smartphone and look down at it – what is your neck doing? When you look down, you are putting your neck into flexion. When this happens, the necks normal curve reverses; you should feel a stretch. At the same time, the mid back slouches and the shoulders roll forward. In order to look up in this position, the chin tilts upward; this is what we refer to as a forward head position. In this posture, the head is not supported over the body but is positioned forward putting strain on the neck, shoulders and back.
This poor posture puts unwanted pressure on the joints, discs and muscles in the neck and back. Now think about how many times a day you look down at your phone (or tablet, watch or laptop.) The answer is probably a lot! The more time we spend in these positions the more our neck and back are stressed. When this happens, increased pressure occurs in the joints, nerves and discs of the spine and muscles shorten and become tight. This constant strain more often than not results in pain, which can occur in the neck, shoulders, arms, back and as headaches.
Strategies to Treat and Prevent Tech Neck
The good news is that there are many strategies to treat and prevent tech neck. The first is to correct your posture. In a good upright posture your back is well-aligned, the shoulders are relaxed and the neck is positioned over the body, not forward. The easiest way to prevent pain is by setting time limits on how long you use your devices at a time, although this is not always possible. In that case, take frequent breaks to stretch and move around, set an alarm on your device to go off as a reminder. Use tools to help keep you in an upright position, such as a tablet holder. The way you hold your device is also very important, try not to hold it in a position where you have to look down all the time, hold it in front of you. This keeps your neck from bending as much and reduces strain.
There are many different exercises for tech neck. The key with any neck exercise is to be gentle. Never force your neck into a position, move gently and allow any stretch to gradually increase.
- One of the most important exercises is called a chin tuck, an exercise that strengthens the small postural muscles in the neck. To do this exercise sit up straight, then nod your chin downward (almost like you have an inside joke with someone and you don’t want anyone else to notice.) This should feel gentle and not forced. Do this exercise every hour throughout the day to strengthen the postural muscles and help prevent neck pain.
- Stretching can also help. To stretch the upper back, put your hands behind your neck (just rest your hands there, don’t push or put pressure on the neck), then open your elbows. This should feel like a good stretch in the shoulders, chest and mid back.
- Doing simple neck stretches can also help. Gently tilt the head in each direction or look in the direction of your pocket to feel a gentle stretch.
The biggest problem with tech neck is not in the symptoms, it’s where the source of the problem is. If you don’t address the positions and mechanics that are causing the problem, stretching is just a Band-Aid. A physical therapist is trained to not only help with symptoms, but to unearth and address what caused the problem in the first place. Technology will continue to be a large part of our lives, but with good care you can make sure it doesn’t cause more harm than good. As physical therapists, our goal is to help our clients live healthy lives without being limited by pain and dysfunction.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, call us at 503-295-2585 or visit www.lifesworkpt.com to schedule an initial evaluation with one of our physical therapists. If you live outside the Portland area, please refer to our previous blog on How to Find a Good PT and visit apta.org to locate a great physical therapist in your area.