Your mobile device serves many purposes. It helps you keep in touch with friends and family and catch-up on work emails, and it serves as a source of information where you can find answers to any of your questions.
While you may enjoy your multipurpose device, it’s not doing your posture any favors and may be the source of your neck pain. In fact, the chronic stooping of your head and hunching of your shoulders may lead to permanent damage to your cervical spine.
At Advanced Spine and Pain, with locations all over Virginia and Maryland, we’re seeing a lot of what we call “tech neck,” and we want to make you aware of the new condition and the potential dangers it poses.
It’s all about positioning
Your neck plays many important roles. It not only supports the weight of your head, but also helps you move your head from side to side as well as forward and back, so you can make those important judgement calls, like when it’s safe to make the left-hand turn at the four-way stop.
Unfortunately, because your neck is so flexible and needs to support an extra 10-12 pounds with little assistance from the rest of your body, neck pain is common. But maintaining the natural curve of your spine as it was designed, meaning holding your head up straight and your shoulders back, improves weight distribution and may prevent the discomfort.
It’s estimated that adults in the United States spend nearly three hours a day on their phones. And while some of that time may be spent actually talking, as the phone was originally intended, many of those minutes may be spent with head down and shoulders hunched, texting, messaging, scrolling, reading, or watching. This positioning of your neck isn’t natural and places extra strain on your cervical spine, neck muscles, and shoulders -- and it may put you at risk of tech neck.
What the research says
In recent years, researchers have been investigating the association between neck pain and mobile phone use. A January 2017 cohort study published in Applied Ergonomics investigated whether texting on the mobile phone was a risk factor for neck and upper back pain. The study, which included 7,092 participants, found a positive correlation between phone use, specifically texting, and pain.
To further investigate the effects texting has on your neck, an April 2018 study, also published in Applied Ergonomics, compared the effects of different types of text entry (single-handed versus double-handed) on positioning of the neck in a group of people with and without neck pain. The researchers found that both types of texting affected spinal alignment and noted that the alignment was worse in those with chronic neck pain. To be fair, this was a small study (37 total participants between both groups) and more research is needed.
The long-term consequences of tech neck
Holding your neck and shoulders in an unnatural position for an extended period of time can place extra strain on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that make up your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Over time, this can lead to inflammation of the soft tissue, which may cause headaches and/or muscle soreness and pain.
The unnatural positioning may also place extra strain on your joints and increase the rate of degeneration, disc herniation, or arthritis, which may lead to chronic neck pain.
Preventing tech neck
We know how important your devices are to you, and we’re not going to tell you to stop using them. But for the sake of your neck and shoulders, we do recommend you make some alterations on how you use your phone to reduce your risk of tech neck and any long-term health consequences that may come with it.
Try these tips:
- Use a supportive device that holds your phone at eye level when texting
- Take frequent breaks from your phone
- Draw your shoulder blades back, which naturally brings your head up, when using your phone
- Stretch your shoulders and neck muscles periodically throughout the day
If you’re still experiencing neck pain after implementing these strategies, then it’s time to get help. Our orthopedic experts can examine your cervical spine and supportive tissue and see if there’s something more serious going on. We can also refer you to a physical or occupational therapist who can provide you with exercises and tools that can improve spinal alignment and ergonomics to reduce your tech neck.
If you have concerns about tech neck, call Advanced Spine and Pain today or request an appointment online.