The majority of people now use some type of hi-tech mobile device such as smart phones, tablets and laptops. You have seen the pose—head down, shoulders and back hunched forward, as fingers work away at texting, being on social media or simply playing games. Your head weighs 10-12 pounds. As you start to look down, weight and tension increases on your spine, muscles, tendons and ligaments. As you look completely down and your chin is closest to your chest, it is estimated the weight of your head on your neck increases to around 60 pounds. How long would you be able to hold a 60 pound bowling ball? How would you feel after holding this 60 pound bowling ball for 2-3 hours, which is the average amount of time people spend on their mobile devices every day?
It’s not only children and teenagers, people of all ages can be observed connecting with their devices. Staying connected with these mobile devices has become so commonplace, but can prematurely age your body, especially your spine. Initially this may start out as a soreness or stiffness in the neck and, if left uncorrected over time, this could lead to permanent damage to your spine and nervous system.
Symptoms of Tech Neck–Beyond Neck Pain
There are a variety of symptoms that may develop while spending a copious amount of time looking down at your mobile device. You may suffer from neck pain. You may experience headaches. You may also irritate the nerves exiting your spine, which, in turn, can lead to numbness and tingling in your arms, hands and/or fingers with possible associated weakness in these areas. Any of these symptoms that persist for more than a few days or come and go on a regular basis should be addressed immediately before causing permanent damage.
Complications Arising From Tech Neck
When your head is looking straight ahead, there is a forward curvature in your neck that is designed to support the weight of your head. The more time you spend looking down, this normal curvature in the spine can be lost. This in turn creates excessive compression on the front of your spine, putting undue stress on your discs. Over time this can damage your discs, leading to disc bulges, herniations, or degeneration. It is not uncommon over the last decade to view neck x-rays of someone in their 20’s or 30’s and see the spine of someone who appears 40 or 50 years older.
Another issue that may arise when dealing with these chronic symptoms is the use of over-the-counter and prescription pain medications. Unfortunately, these medications do nothing to address the underlying cause of the problem and may actually accelerate the degenerative process occurring in the spine. As the problem worsens, people are more likely to turn to more powerful prescription pain medications, including narcotic opioids, that are highly addictive and lead to more than 14,000 deaths every year.
Strategies to Prevent Tech Neck and Neck Pain
You can greatly reduce the amount of stress on your neck and spine by modifying how you use your mobile device. A few simple strategies can make a big difference not only on how you feel, but also will slow down the degenerative process in your spine.
Make sure the screen of your device is at, or just below eye level. Hold your device up in front of you so your head is not looking down.
Don’t use your mobile device for extended times or projects. Try to use your desktop computer for longer projects and also make sure your desktop computer is set up ergonomically correct. Make sure your monitor is directly in front of you and the top of the screen should be at or just below eye level.
When you’re using your mobile device for extended times, take a stretch break every five minutes.
Chin Tuck—This stretch can either be done sitting, standing or laying down on your back. Slowly move your chin back to bring your ears directly over your shoulders. You will feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
Upward Facing Dog—This is a common yoga position that helps to undo the stress and strain of tech neck. Begin by laying face-down. Place your hands along-side your body, palms down by your lower ribs. Push up with your arms and arch upwards. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
Back Bend—Kneel on the floor in an upright erect position with your hands on the back of your thighs. Tilt your head and neck forward and then tilt your head and neck back looking upwards, arching your spine. Inhale deeply as you arch backward. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
Doorway Chest and Shoulder Stretch—Stand in a doorway with your arms up at a 90 degree angle and elbows flexed at 90 degrees with your forearms on the door frame. Stagger your feet with one in front of the other, lean forward bringing your arms back, opening up your chest and shoulders. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
By implementing these strategies and exercises, you hopefully will be able to undo your tech neck. If your symptoms persist after doing these strategies and exercises for more than several weeks, I would recommend scheduling an evaluation with a chiropractor to assess the underlying problem and have it corrected.