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Managing Tech Neck

May/19/2024 / by Brian Sodoma

How to prevent and reverse this common ailment

South Asian woman holding neck and shoulder in pain while sitting with laptop
Photo via Shutterstock

It’s a common sight in the workplace, at home, or when you’re out to lunch with friends and colleagues – people gazing down into their phones. With trillions of technology devices keeping the attention of their owners daily, staring down into a phone, a laptop or even slouching at a desktop ultimately leads to strain on the neck and shoulders, a condition more commonly referred to today as “tech neck.”

While it’s not life-threatening, the condition could lead to a more painful nerve impingement and potentially a herniated disk in the neck, if not addressed. Here’s how to avoid this fate by adopting a few good habits to keep your neck and shoulders pain-free.

Why Tech Neck Occurs

As we continue to stare at our phones, the curve of our neck puts a lot of strain on it. “When you look down just 45 degrees, your neck muscles are doing the work of lifting an almost 50-pound bag of potatoes,” said Dr. Daniel Riew, a spine surgeon at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Prolonging that strain on the neck will result in symptoms such as “explicit neck pain, shoulder pain, and progressively headaches, and if those symptoms go on for too long, it can create tingling in the arms, which is the extreme case,” added Jon Walmsley, a physical therapist at Spring Valley Hospital in Southern Nevada.

When your neck is curved for long periods of time, the muscles in the back lengthen while the muscles in the front of the body shorten, leading to rounded shoulders, slouching, and a hunched back, Walmsley explained.

“This issue is entirely related to posture, but as long as you are not too far along where there might be a nerve impingement, it’s entirely reversible,” he noted.

Tips To Avoid Or Reverse Early Signs Of Tech Neck

Walmsley shared a few tips to help you improve your posture and avoid the worst-case scenarios associated with tech neck.

Tip #1: See Your Doctor

When you feel tightness or pain in the neck and shoulders, visit your primary care physician. The physician may offer some daily exercises or refer you to a physical therapist who can put you on a program.

Tip #2: Step Away

Take breaks from the screen every 15 minutes. This can serve as a reminder to stop slouching and straighten your posture.

Tip #3: Lift Your Gadget

When you hold a device, hold it “instead of down towards your belly, put it up in front of you at about chest height,” Walmsley said.

Tip #4: Aim High

If you work at a desktop, raise monitors to eye level. Investing in a stand-up desk may also be helpful, as you are more likely to raise the monitors to a height where you are putting less strain on the neck and looking forward instead of down.

Tip #5: Straighten Up

When you sit down, make sure to position your feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart and sit up, so “everything is kind of in a straight line,” Walmsley added.

Specific Exercises For Tech Neck

The physical therapist also recommended two specific exercises. The first is called a chin tuck. This exercise is performed by sitting upright with your shoulder straight. Then place your finger on your chin and press the chin straight back so that a stretch can be felt at the base of your neck.

The second exercise is called a scapular retraction. To perform it, stand upright and push back, or retract your shoulder blades backwards without shrugging the shoulders. Some people will visualize trying to hold a pencil in place in the center of their back to get a maximum retraction.

Dr. Patrick Nuzzo, a doctor of Naprapathic Medicine, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also suggests lying on your back on an exercise ball. He recommends doing it in a doorway so that you can hold onto the door frame, if needed, to keep yourself stable. Reach backward as you lie on the ball as far as you can to stretch your spine. Perform the stretch in the morning, mid-day, and in the evening, before going to bed.

“Stretching the spine like that counteracts the hunching over you may be doing throughout the day,” he said.

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