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What is tech neck?

Although the utilization of modern technology has brought an abundance of benefits to our daily lives, unfortunately, frequent use of computers and smart phones can cause physical problems within our bodies, especially to the musculoskeletal system. One of these problems is known as ‘tech neck’ – what is tech neck? and what can be done to help?

For example, the increased use of smart phones and other devices has been significantly contributing to a health condition known as the ‘tech neck,’ also known as ‘text neck.’ When an individual is looking at a hand-held device or a computer for a prolonged period of time without proper ergonomics, this causes over usage of the head, neck and shoulder muscles, leading to development of this condition.1 Unfortunately, tech neck or text neck has become a common health condition observed by many healthcare providers.

What causes tech neck?

A flexed head posture places excessive strain on the spine, causing an increase in pressure on the muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and discs within the cervical and upper thoracic regions.  This can cause neck pain, headaches, shoulder and arm pain and even, difficulties breathing.1

Today, technology users spend multiple hours a day in positions that lead to placing excessive strain to these regions.1  If left untreated, tech neck can progress over time, leading to multiple health problems. Including alterations to the cervical curvature, injuries to posterior ligaments, muscle strain, affecting perception of the neck muscles and even entrapment or compression of the nerves. These conditions can ultimately contribute to the development of headaches, dizziness, pinching of the nerve root in the spinal column, pain and dysfunction to the cervical and thoracic regions of the musculoskeletal system. In the long term, tech neck can cause changes to the nervous system and sensory-motor deficiencies.2

The onset of conditions such as tech neck can be progressive and although subtle, can have harmful effects. This often leads to pain, limitations in movement and decreased physiological functions, which can all reduce quality of life. 

How to prevent tech neck

It is important to be mindful of strategies that can help prevent tech neck. Prevention is key to development of conditions like tech neck. 

When viewing a device:

  • You should hold the device at eye level, so that the head is always in a neutral position.1
  • Shoulders should always be relaxed  
  • Wrists should be straight. 

Adjustments to your workstation can also help prevent incorrect posture and avoid additional force being placed on cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae.1 These adjustments can include: 

  • Adjusting the computer monitor to eye level.
  • Keep your computer screen about an arm’s length away from the face and as close to your eye level, so that when looking at the middle of the screen, the head does not need to be tilted.3
  • Adjusting the height of a chair will also be helpful, as feet are able to reach the floor and arms can rest easily on the desk when reaching for the keyboard or the mouse. 

Poor posture can create unnecessary strain to the spine, causing chronic pain and ongoing health concerns. It is imperative to be mindful of one’s position when sitting at a desk so that everything is within reach. 

What about a standing desk?

A standing desk has multiple benefits to maintain postural alignment. In addition, standing desks may have benefits for cardiovascular health and improve energy and overall health, while reducing risks of obesity and other metabolic disorders.4

Exercises for tech neck

Exercises that help with proper position of the spine are important in order to maintain good posture and appropriate cervical curvature. Activation of the extensor muscles with low-tech resistance training is another great remedy to maintain proper posture.4 Chiropractors are in perfect positions to provide education about basic exercises which will help to avoid further development of tech neck. These can include performing regular neck extensions (moving the head back), neck rotation to both sides, and neck side bends, while pushing the head into the hand to create further resistance.1

To avoid development of tech neck, many chiropractors even advocate for custom foot orthotics, because proper foot posture is directly correlated with correct adjustment within the higher regions of the spine. Preventative approaches not only help individuals to avoid unnecessary surgeries or procedures, they can also assist with avoiding over usage of potential addiction to analgesics such as opioids.3

Although pain can be managed using medications such as pain killers and muscle relaxants, various devices are available for the treatment of conditions like tech neck. Handheld muscle massagers can reduce muscle tightness.

Braces and cervical pillows can further promote proper cervical curvature, whereas massage therapy can assist in eliminating pressure, improve circulation and flexibility to the muscles affected with a tech neck condition.2

Other treatments to manage pain from tech neck can include physical therapy, acupuncture, cervical manipulation and extension traction therapy.3

Speak with a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist, osteopath, or chiropractor, when choosing devices or equipment for body alignment. These healthcare providers will be able to assist in giving you the proper tools to prevent and reduce the progression of conditions such as tech neck, while avoiding further injury from incorrect use of self-help aids. 

References:

  1. WONG, K. (2018). Patient screening: Text neck and the chiropractic patient. Chiropractic Economics64(15), 21–24.

2. JENSEN, B. (2021). TECH NECK, HEAD TO TOE: Incorporating body stabilization and foot alignment into treatment. Chiropractic Economics12, 60–64.

3. Chun-Pu Chu, E. (2022). Preventing the progression of text neck in a young man: A case report.

Radiology Case Reports, 17(3), 978-982

4. El-Hayek, D. M. (2018). 10 Hacks To Relieve Back Pain For Office Workers / Employees. Positive Health245, 2–1.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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