How many hours a day do you spend sitting at a desk working on a computer? How often do you look down at your smartphone to check for messages? Do you use an e-reader to read books or a tablet to scan social media?
Many of us constantly tilt our heads or lean forward multiple times each day to engage with technology. Abnormal tension in the neck and slumping of the shoulders often occurs. This results in a physical condition called “Tech Neck” (also referred to as “nerd neck,” “text neck,” or the scientific term “Upper Cross Syndrome”).
The myriad of symptoms that can occur with Tech Neck includes neck pain, headache, ringing in the ears, and upper back pain. Numbness in the arm or hands can also develop from prolonged maintenance of the forward-leaning posture. The body adapts to this abnormal position by stretching the postural muscles in the back of the neck and shoulder blades. Consequently, tightening of the muscles in the front of the neck and chest also occur.
In a healthy neutral posture, the head and chin are aligned directly over the shoulders and the pelvis. As the head tilts forward, the muscles in the back of the neck must support extra weight. Every inch equals 10 more pounds of pressure. Thus, each time you look down to read, further muscular strain is placed on the back of the neck. Moreover, chronic forward leaning of the head and rounding of the back can also result in decreased lung capacity.
Is your posture suffering?
How can you tell if you have a case of Tech Neck? Test your posture by standing next to a wall with your heels, buttocks, and shoulders backed up against the wall. Stand up tall and straight, and then try to tilt your head back towards the wall. If the back of your head is unable to touch the wall, your front neck and chest are too tight. You have the classic forward head posture of Tech Neck.
Multiple ergonomic steps can help to prevent the development of Tech Neck. Raising your reading material closer to eye level helps keep your head up and over the shoulders. Tilting your chair in a reclining position by 20 to 30 degrees with good lumbar support opens up your chest and takes the pressure off the back of your neck. Including frequent breaks from the same reading position prevents tightness in the muscles. Rotating your head side to side and backward will help keep your neck flexible.
Some severe cases of Tech Neck may require formal physical therapy treatment. Physical therapy focuses on relaxing the tight muscles while strengthening the stretched muscles. “Superman” exercises (e.g., lying on your stomach prone while holding your head, neck, and arms up in the air) are particularly beneficial for improving posture. Physical therapists can also aid with myofascial releases and McKenzie back exercises to loosen the tight muscles in the front. Yoga poses that emphasize the opposite direction of the Tech Neck deformity (e.g., upward-facing dog, sphinx pose, cobra pose) can also aid in recovery.
Many of us have grown more dependent on personal gadgets for work, socializing, or entertainment. So, we must be cognizant of the physical toll we place on our bodies when engaging in the same position throughout the day.
And although it may sound a bit silly, Tech Neck is a genuine physical condition that can result in uncomfortable, nagging symptoms. Fortunately, it is both preventable and treatable – and we won’t have to stop using our smartphones.