Do you have ‘tech neck’?

Do you have ‘tech neck’?

Americans can spend hours every day on their phones. Round-the-clock access to online information can keep you connected, informed and entertained.

But it can also be hard to resist. Research suggests that spending hours staring down at your screen, especially while texting, could have physical consequences.

Craning your head forward and tilting it down while viewing your screen can have a detrimental impact on your muscles and spine. This type of repeated motion, often referred to as “tech neck” or “text neck,” can cause a repetitive-stress injury that leads to neck and spine pain, stiffness or soreness, and may create secondary musculoskeletal pain in your back, joints, nerves and ligaments.

“We’re seeing many more patients with debilitating neck pain caused by repeated fixation on mobile screens,” says Dr. Brian Konowalchuk, an occupational medicine at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Manitowoc, Wis. “If you’re noticing pain in your neck, shoulders or upper back after using your device, it’s a warning to take action. Taking the proper steps to avoid repetitive stress can offer relief or even prevent the problem.”

Dr. Konowalchuk offers some strategies to help guard against neck strain when using your device.

1. Get up and move: Stretching and frequent breaks are the best defense. Look up and stretch your neck frequently. Try to move from a sedentary position and stand or walk every 30 minutes.

2. Practice proper ergonomics: Select a chair that has a headrest to maintain good posture and prevent the urge to tilt your head down to look at your screen.

3. Change the angle of your screen: By raising the screen to eye level, you’ll eliminate the need to look down. This can be done by adjusting the height of your screen with accessories like a stand or raising your computer monitor. It may help to increase the font size of your screen.

4. Add physical activity: In addition to many other physical and emotional health benefits, exercise helps to reduce inflammation. It also stretches and strengthens your neck and back muscles, keeping them flexible. Massage can also be helpful to relieve soreness.

5. Treat your muscles: If your neck is aching, consider trying ice or heat to treat pain or stiffness. Ice is a good anti-inflammatory, but can cause muscle tension. Heat is another option for a muscle relaxant, as it promotes blood flow. Try each to see what works for you.

Though a recent study suggested that the formation of “bone spurs” or “horns” at the base of the skull caused by consistently tilting the head forward during mobile device use are cropping up, experts raised questions about its findings in published reports.

By making small changes, you can continue to enjoy using your devices while alleviating pain and eliminating potential health risks. If you experience prolonged pain, see your medical professional.

Does your back or neck hurt? Take free, quick online risk assessment by clicking here.

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One Comment

  1. This is an occupational hazard (“tech neck”) for laboratorians! Years ago, microscopes did not have adjustable occulars (eyepieces) and many years of looking at specimens have created painful arthritic necks for us older lab technologists. Thankfully, modern microscopes are much more adjustable and more attention is paid to ergonomics. While young, you might not see the damage being done, but it WILL catch up with you.

About the Author

Bonnie Farber
Bonnie Farber

Bonnie Farber, health enews contributor, is a communications professional in the Public Affairs and Marketing Operations Department at Advocate Aurora Health. Her experience includes integrated product marketing in the biotechnology field, strategic communications at American Family Insurance and UW Credit Union, and marketing communications consulting for non-profit organizations in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She holds a degree in History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and enjoys playing music in a Brazilian percussion band and volunteering for a listener-sponsored radio station in her free time.