What Is “Tech Neck” and Can It Be Reversed? - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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What Is “Tech Neck” and Can It Be Reversed?

Tech Neck
  • Have you noticed mild​​​​ to sharp pain in your neck, upper back, or shoulders?
  • Do you feel like your posture is suffering when using handheld devices like your phone or iPad?
  • Are you experiencing more headaches or a decrease in your neck mobility?
  • Do you spend the better part of your day working at your computer or reading/watching videos on your phone?

You may be experiencing “tech neck” sometimes referred to as “text neck”. While this is not an official medical diagnosis it is commonly characterized as a repetitive stress injury believed to be caused by excessive use of technology (computers and handheld electronic devices like your phone). The muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the neck are meant to support 10-12 pounds of head weight when the spine is in a neutral position. Commonly when texting the head is bent forward 45-60 degrees while looking down at the screen. This severe downward angle increases the weight load and forces places on the neck to approximately 45-60 pounds. Overtime these increased loads placed on the neck become so great that one may experience pain, limited range of motion, and even changes in the structure of the cervical spine.

Pain may be localized to the neck or more broadly in the neck, upper back, and into the shoulders. It may be a mild achiness or sharp, stabbing pain that is intermittent in the beginning but becomes more constant without intervention. The posture one assumes when texting tends to draw the head forward and down and round the shoulders in when using both thumbs to text or hold the phone This posture causes the deep neck flexors and pectoralis muscles in the front of the trunk to become shortened and tight while the muscles in the upper back have now adaptively lengthened and weakened. These muscular imbalances result in pain and restricted mobility of the neck, upper back, and shoulders.

One may also experience muscular pain at the base of the neck due to this posture that causes headaches. Excessive amounts of time spent looking at screens also increases the risk of headaches, migraines, and eyestrain. Other less common symptoms include cervical radiculopathy due to nerve root irritation, balance issues secondary to postural changes, and even jaw pain.


What Can You Do?

The first step you can take is to improve your postural awareness and habits when utilizing handheld devices or sitting at your desk/computer. 

  • Raise the computer screen to eye level or raise your device to eye level. It may be helpful to prop your phone/iPad up when watching videos or reading for prolonged periods of time.
  • Adjust your work habits to allow frequent breaks.
  • Employ good posture with chin tucked in and shoulders pulled back and down to reduce strain on the upper trapezius muscles and keep cervical spine in neutral.
  • Frequently bend your head back into extension to ease strain on the front of the neck and maintain range of motion.
  • Exercises regularly to keep your entire neck and back strong, flexible, and more adaptable to the everyday stresses placed on your body.
  • Perform these 4 neck/upper back exercises throughout the day to maintain flexibility and range of motion.
  1. 1
    Chin tucks: Stand in front of a mirror with shoulders relaxed. Gently pull your chin back to make a double chin. Do not tilt your head forward or backwards. Hold for 5 seconds and perform 10 times.
  2. 2
    Scapular retractions: sitting or standing with good posture, bend elbows to 90 degrees keeping shoulders relaxed. Try to touch elbows behind your back while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold 5 seconds and perform 10 times.
  3. 3
    Deep neck flexors stretch: Close your teeth without clenching. Gently extend your head back as far as you can. Open your mouth and try to tip your head back a little further. Now slowly close your mouth feeling a stretch through the front of your neck. Hold 5 seconds and perform 10 times.
  4. 4
    Doorway pec stretch: Stand in a lunge through a doorway. Bring your arms up to make a “W’ placing forearm on the door facings. Gently lean forward into the front foot until you feel a stretch across the front of your shoulders. Hold 15-20 seconds and perform 3 times.

Finally!

If all of these suggestions do not provide a significant reduction in your “tech neck” symptoms, it may be time to seek the help of one of our highly skilled physical therapists at BREAKAWAY PHYSICAL THERAPY. We will provide you with individualized and one-on-one care including manual therapies such as soft tissue mobilization, myofascial release, and joint mobilizations. We will recommend ergonomic changes to your work place set-up to reduce strain on your neck and back throughout your day and tailor a home stretching and strengthening program to ensure your symptoms do not return. Unsure of whether a full evaluation is right for you? Call 410-721-6333 to schedule a FREE 30-minute Breakthrough visit and speak to one of our physical therapists to help you make the best decision that works for you.


Carissa Reed

Carissa Reed

Carissa started her physical therapy journey in 2001 after graduating from Maryville University in Saint Louis, Missouri with a Bachelor's of Physical Therapy. In 2001, she completed her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill where her focus was in women's health studies specifically the effects of exercise during pregnancy.
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