Tech Neck: Addressing Neck Pain in the Digital Age

5 min read

Even if you’ve never heard of "tech neck," chances are you’ve felt the pain that comes from staring down at your phone for long periods of time. Tech neck is a new diagnosis resulting from today’s screen culture. This recent diagnosis refers to the overuse and strain of the muscles in the neck from looking down at the phones and screens we hold in our hands. The change in the angle of the neck to looking down more frequently can result in various issues, including strained muscles, stiffness, inflammation, arthritis, and even herniated discs. 

Unfortunately, many don't realize how our necks are involved in almost every movement we make until an injury occurs. Neck pain can impact your life and your ability to function normally. But the good news is, it can be treated and even prevented! 

Understanding Tech Neck

Tech neck has several contributing factors other than the (over)use of handheld technology. However, using personal devices for long periods of time at angles that create additional strain on the neck is the primary cause. It’s easy to do without even realizing it. When we sit and scroll or watch videos on a handheld screen, it’s more common to hold it down and not in front of us. 

Another potential issue is repetitive head and neck movements. This is sometimes seen in the office setting with computer screens at poor angles or in factory environments where repeated movements throughout the day don't allow the muscles in your neck to rest. 

How Screens Affect Neck and Spine Health

The issue has become so commonly associated with technology and phones that many chiropractors are working with adults, teens, and children to help them understand the additional strain that can be caused by looking down for prolonged periods. Looking at a screen that isn't correctly positioned creates an additional workload for the muscles in your neck the closer your chin gets to your chest. When your head is in natural alignment with your spine, your muscles do less work.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of tech neck are: 

  • Headaches
  • Constant neck pain
  • Fatigue
  • Pain that radiates down the back or into the arms
  • Eye pain

If you have any of these signs, it may be time to visit a chiropractor or other medical professional. In the meantime, take a screen break — or at least position it in front of you and not underneath you.

The Digital Age Lifestyle

Medical professionals recognize that, at least for the near future, mobile devices are here to stay, which means their impact on our posture will be around to stay, too. Significant concerns exist about the long-term effects of tech neck on populations as they age. As individuals spend more time on screens for their work and personal time, the issues will continue to be more dramatic. Additionally, remote work and virtual communication techniques have contributed to further dependence on technology in our everyday lives. 

Health Implications of Tech Neck

If you have noticed the signs of tech neck, alter your movements as soon as possible to reduce the effects. Over time and without treatment, these short-term issues can develop into chronic conditions with long-term consequences, including: 

  1. Chronic neck or back pain
  2. Postural issues 
  3. Potential impact on spinal health

Prevention and Management Strategies for Tech Neck

The most obvious thing to do is stop holding your device down low. But it’s harder than you might think! Having your phone in front of you is a bit odd when in public. Even at home, that position can make your arms start to hurt. 

Take Breaks from Your Device

Give your neck a break. Set a timer (on that same device) and set it down now and then so you can rest your neck. If you’re working, try to get up and move around about once an hour to keep your joints feeling better and relax your neck.

Strengthen your Neck and Back Muscles

Exercises that focus on your neck and spine to ensure that you continue to build and stretch those muscles appropriately. Regularly used muscles are more resistant to injury. Several types of neck stretches, such as rolling your head and neck around in clockwise and counterclockwise directions or looking up and down slowly to help try and relax each of your muscles. At Village Chiropractic, we also suggest some strengthening exercises to help increase the resilience of your supporting muscles. 

If Your Neck Strain Comes from Working at a Desk

Set up your desk correctly. Position your monitor so that you’re looking straight on rather than upward or downward. Additionally, ensure that your chair is a good fit for you and that it's set at the proper height so that your feet are flat on the floor and you can view the screen straight ahead. Try not to slouch in your chair or sit on your feet.

How Chiropractic Care Can Help

If you have been experiencing neck and shoulder pain that might result from technology overuse, chiropractic care can provide relief. Chiropractors have a variety of techniques that can help alleviate all of the underlying symptoms of tech neck. The exact treatments will depend on your pain and what’s causing it.

Stiff, strained muscles will likely be treated with Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS). E-stim delivers light electrical pulses to the muscles surrounding the area where you’re experiencing pain. About 10-15 minutes can relax the muscles, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and decrease muscle spasms.

You may also have a spinal adjustment to get your spine and neck back into proper alignment. Continuing to hold your device down low or sitting in the same uncomfortable position at work will counteract this. Also, pay attention to your posture and how you hold your devices for the spinal adjustments to have the most effect.

Cryotherapy is another way to help your muscles recover quicker than they would otherwise. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the affected area to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Just a few minutes of cryotherapy can help you feel better sooner. It’s often combined with other therapies used for sore muscles, tendons, and ligaments. 

Being proactive is best, but if you find that you have pain in your neck or back when you hold your head up or are unable to sleep well, it’s time to meet with the chiropractor. Don’t let it continue without treatment. It will only get worse with time.

Related blog: Neck Pain? How Chiropractic Care Can Help

Village Chiropractic in The Woodlands Can Help With Tech Neck

Our team in The Woodlands is here to help you find relief and can show you how to hold devices in a way that will reduce pain over time.  We can also show you good exercises for giving your neck and upper back a nice stretch to relieve the tension caused by screen time.

Request an appointment at our location in Alden Bridge, and we’ll create a personalized treatment plan to get you feeling better!

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