Neck pain and shoulder pain are both pretty common. When you consider that most people spend five hours a day looking at their phones, it’s not surprising. The human head weighs about ten pounds. One study showed that when the head is tilted forward as little as 15 degrees, as it is when we look at our phones and computer screens, the effect of the head’s weight increases to 27 pounds. At 60 degrees, it’s 60 pounds. This improper posture, called forward head carriage, is more commonly known as tech neck.
What is Tech Neck?
According to Dr. Kyle Smerglia of Smerglia Chiropractic, “Tech neck refers to all the technology that is keeping our chin and our chest looking down.” This includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of tech neck include neck pain, numbness in the fingers, tension headache, and poor posture.
Tech neck is caused by nerve compression at the base of the neck muscles, right in the area where the spine connects with the skull. The cause of this compression is poor posture and forward head carriage, the position the head is in when looking down at a smartphone or other device.
How Do You Treat Tech Neck?
There are many ways to treat tech neck. The most effective physical therapy method depends on the severity of the nerve damage and overall muscle strain.
Is there a simple fix?
According to Dr. Smerglia, there is no simple fix for tech neck. “Is there a simple fix? No. And is it ever going to fix back to perfect? No, but does it have to… You know, if we take some measurements and we see that, that curves 15 millimeters off the textbook normal. It doesn’t have to get back to that. You know, you might make it a three-millimeter change and that’s enough to restore function and reduce the tone and tension in those muscles and pains.”
Can it be prevented?
Here are some strategies to prevent tech neck:
- Take breaks. The longer you spend looking down at your devices, the longer your neck has to cope with the extra pressure. Take a two or three-minute break every half hour or so, to relax tight muscles. Get up and walk around and do some stretches that focus on your neck. Use your phone to set an alarm to remind you when it’s time to look up.
- Raise your screen. If your smartphone is the primary culprit, try holding it closer to eye level to lessen the pressure. You may also consider buying a holder to make it easier to position. If you use a laptop, consider investing in a separate monitor so you can raise the height or use a stand to elevate your laptop a bit.
- Get a chair with a headrest that supports good posture. Try to keep your upper back and head pressed against the chair when using your devices to eliminate the strain on your neck. Remain in a neutral position to prevent improper posture.
Can Chiropractors Fix Forward Head Posture and Tech Neck?
Chiropractors may be able to help alleviate the pain, but the proper treatment also focuses on prevention. With the right chiropractic intervention and prevention, Dr. Smerglia says, “It’s going to dissipate.”
Do adjustments ease the pain and strain?
Treatment of tech neck and forward head carriage involves correcting posture and working on the area of the neck where it meets the spine. Chiropractic adjustment and physical therapy can decompress the nerve and relieve pain, but without preventative measures, the pain will likely return.
What exercises can you do at home?
There are many exercises you can do at home to prevent tech neck. Here are a few:
- Exaggerated nod. This exercise is a great one because you can do it while sitting at your desk. Keep your mouth closed and look up at the ceiling. Then, open your mouth and relax your jaw, stretching your head even further back. Open and close your mouth, feeling the stretch in the front of your neck.
- Chin tuck. Sit up tall in your chair, looking straight ahead with the chin parallel to the floor. Pull your head and chin back, keeping the chin parallel to the floor, like you’re trying to look as if you have a double chin. Then, elongate the neck, pushing the top of your head toward the ceiling. Hols for three breaths, release, and repeat.
- Yoga. Yoga is ideal for stretching in general, but some positions are especially good for targeting the neck, including downward facing dog, cat-cow, Padahastasana, and bow pose.
Tips from the doctor
One important thing to keep in mind from Dr. Smerglia is that tech neck is the result of damage building up over time. “The discomfort that we’re seeing here, it’s not trauma-related. It’s more microtraumas, small things that people are doing to their body over time,” Smerglia says. By striving for good posture, the damage of tech neck can be minimized.
Keeping an Eye on Your Posture
Keeping an eye on your posture is important. Here are some things to remember:
Good practices for posture at home and work
As we mentioned, taking breaks is very important. It’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to be able to stop using your devices, not when you consider how much we all depend on our smartphones and laptops for work and entertainment. But taking regular breaks goes a long way to protect your neck.
Get up and walk around at least once every hour. Stretch as often as you can. Get a chair that supports your back and neck.
How to maintain good posture throughout the day
Maintaining good posture throughout the day is hard, but it’s something that anyone can learn how to do. Just like anything else, if you work at it, eventually good posture will become a habit. Make yourself hold your smartphone or tablet at eye level until it comes as second nature. Get a desk chair and make it a point to sit with your back and shoulders against it while you’re working.
Focus on small things like this and, eventually, you’ll see an improvement.