"Tech Neck" and How to Prevent It: How Improper Cellphone Usage Causes Neck Pain

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What the Heck is “Tech Neck”?

Today, electronic devices are essential for communication and connecting with those around us. One might even say it has become impossible to avoid the long-term use of cell phones. We can all think of the quintessential teenagers giggling at their phones whilst walking down the sidewalk with their heads down, coworkers slouching over their phones to sneak texts to their friends, or elderly family members leaning over their phone to video-call loved ones across the globe. All of these groups have one thing in common: their phones are being looked at with a downwards gaze. This positioning has been found to contribute to chronic neck pain, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “tech neck.” People of all ages are susceptible to the consequences of long-term cell phone usage, whether it be sleep deprivation, hearing phantom notifications, or developing hand cramps and tech neck. Such neck pains may be among the most painful consequences of technology usage, but why is that the case?

Looking at the Physics Behind Looking Down

The human head weighs approximately 10 to 12 pounds when a person is positioned upright, with their neck and its associated muscles directly beneath for primary support. When the neck is curved downwards to look at a phone screen, for example, this causes misalignment and the weight of the head to increase. The greater the cervical flexion, or bend towards the chest, the more pressure is put on structures of the neck to keep the head from succumbing to gravity. In doing so, muscles of the neck contract and create additional risk for neck and shoulder muscle spasms.

Symptoms of "Tech Neck"

Specifically considering cell phone usage, most individuals report that they have a harder time moving their head back up after looking down at their cell phone for considerable time. This imbalance and time spent contracted for muscle areas around the neck create many issues. Soreness and pain around the shoulder blades, upper back, and neck areas are the most common to result. Furthermore, pain that originated in the neck can spread down the back if improper neck posture is maintained. Additional complaints from tech-induced neck pain include headaches, stiff necks, and neck spasms. 

What Can You Do To Improve Posture?

Maintaining an overall proper posture whilst sitting is key to ensuring that the muscles in the back of the neck are not further burdened to hold your head up. Having a chair with lumbar support reclined to about 25 to 30 degrees can prevent slouching and allow the neck to adjust to a proper, upright position. Additionally, the slight recline can alleviate burden to the neck muscles and allow them to recover.

Why Is This Relevant? 

“Tech neck” pain resulting from  poor posture and technology usage can become chronic and escalate quickly into more serious health concerns. Though extreme, it is a reality that one could experience a bulge or rupture (herniation) of vertebral discs from prolonged increases to pressure where it shouldn’t be. A  “snowball effect” could result from a ruptured disc, causing the pinching of a nerve that spreads pain, weakness, or numbness to the arm. 

Though “tech neck” can be easily corrected for, these downstream effects often require invasive treatments, often in the form of surgical intervention. It is much easier to mitigate the problems of neck pain in the early stages before it becomes more complex, problematic, and difficult to treat. However, if you find yourself experiencing chronic neck pain, Dr. Matthew Kohler and Dr. Raj Maniam of Ospina Medical are happy to get you started on your pain relief journey. Book your initial consultation today… and do so with correct posture!

Written By: Aaliyah Sherfuddin

Edited By: Camden Rowe

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.