If you spend a lot of time leaning over your phone or hovering over a computer keyboard and you're experiencing pain in your neck and upper back, you could have a case of tech neck.
It may sound funny, but it's real. In one study, 68.1% of the college students surveyed showed symptoms of tech neck (or text neck as they refer to it in this study). Another study suggests that 100% of children and adolescents who spend five to seven hours using a smartphone or tablet experience symptoms. The Washington Post went so far as to even call it an epidemic.
So, let's talk about tech neck. In this article, we'll discuss what tech neck is, why it occurs, how to treat it and how to prevent it.
What is tech neck?
Tech neck syndrome (or text neck syndrome) is the vernacular term for cervical kyphosis, a condition that occurs when your cervical spine (neck) curves forward instead of backward. Symptoms can include headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain and even numbness in the hands. This condition has existed for a long time, although it's likely more common now because we're so often leaned forward with our head down looking at our digital devices.
Using phones and computers isn't the only cause of cervical kyphosis, though. Reading books or writing on paper can cause it if you lean forward for too long. Even leaning over your kitchen counter to chop vegetables could potentially cause it if you're frequently in that position and leave your head unsupported.
What does tech neck feel like?
Symptoms and severity vary from person to person, but most people experience some degree of pain and stiffness in their neck and shoulders. This pain tends to increase when the neck is flexed forward toward the chest or extended backward toward the shoulders.Some cases of tech neck lead to cervicogenic headaches, eye pain, or nerve pain that extends to the upper extremities.
Why does tech neck happen?
Your neck is designed to have your head sitting comfortably on top of it. It's important to remember that your head is heavy (11 pounds on average). When you lean forward, you force your neck muscles to hold all of that weight at an angle, not in a vertical position. As you can imagine, holding 11 pounds for hours on end can put a strain on your muscles (imagine doing that with your arm).
Over time, leaning forward with an unsupported head can stress the neck muscles, causing a repetitive strain injury to the tissue around the cervical spine. If left uncorrected, it can lead to herniated cervical discs and more permanent conditions like arthritis.
How do you treat tech neck?
Tech neck doesn't go away on its own. Although the pain may vary in degree from day to day, symptoms tend to build over time unless you actively work to correct your posture.
Here are a few steps you can take to manage existing neck pain and avoid future pain:
- Hold your phone outward ” Instead of holding your phone in your lap, which forces you to lean over and look downard, hold it out in front of your face when using it so you can keep your head straight.
- Take breaks ” Every hour, put your phone down for a few minutes and step away from any activities that require you to lean your head forward. You might even set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take a break.
- Stretch your neck and back ” Make a point to stretch your back a few times every day, arching your neck backward as you do. You might also do some chin tuck exercises, which can help to keep your head aligned on top of your neck.
- Stand up straight ” Practicing good posture while standing can help you to maintain good posture overall, keeping your head and spine aligned. Pay particular attention to your posture if you frequently hold your body in a head-forward position while standing (if you work as a line cook or on a factory line, for example).
- Consult a physical therapist ” Physical therapy can help reduce pain, strengthen your neck muscles and correct any issues in your posture that are contributing to your tech neck. Your physical therapist will help you to better understand the cause of your neck pain and the steps you can take to manage it or eliminate it entirely.
Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for neck pain
At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we're proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that's close to you and that can help you address neck pain.
Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform.
Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your injury or condition.