‘Tech neck’ or ‘text neck’ is a term used to describe pain in the neck, shoulders and back as a result of using mobile devices. When we sit with our heads bent over our phones or tablets, the weight of the head causes pressure on the muscles of the neck and shoulders. This can develop into a form of repetitive strain injury (RSI); that is, pain caused by the prolonged performance of repetitive actions. Most people are familiar with this condition affecting the hands and wrists, but it can apply to any part of the body.
Some of the typical symptoms you may experience are:
- Instant or delayed pain and/or spasms in the neck or upper back when you use your handheld device. This pain can continue for hours afterwards
- Sharp or nagging pain in the neck or shoulders at the end of the day
- A forward head posture leading to rounded shoulders
- Reduced mobility and muscle spasms
- An intermittent or constant headache that’s made worse when you look down at your computer or device
- Nerve irritation that causes the pain to move through your head or arms
This condition is not only caused by using mobile devices. It can be caused by reading, working or studying in a position where the head is tilted and your posture is compromised. If you hunch over your desk at work or school or sit with your shoulders rounded, you’re at risk of experiencing this pain.
Having your head tilted forwards has a significant effect on the pressure put on your neck. Tilting your head by 15 degrees puts about 27lbs of pressure on your neck. If the angle is increased to 60 degrees, the pressure is 60 lbs or the weight of an average 8-year-old child! Just to put this into context, holding your head up straight puts pressure of 10-12lbs on your neck.
This amount of pressure could lead to any of the following in later life; arthritis, spinal degeneration, disc compression and muscle weakness.
There are some exercises you can try at home that can help you alleviate some of the symptoms of this condition. Before attempting these exercises, try warming up the neck with a heat pack or a warm towel:
- Neck Circles – Sit up straight and imagine that your nose is pressed against a window. Draw circles on the glass with your nose, but keep the movements slow, and smooth. Repeat this 20 times in each direction but STOP if you feel any pain at all.
- Chin Tucks – Sitting straight tuck your chin towards your chest as if you’re trying to make double chins. Looking down you should feel a comfortable stretch along your neck; don’t extend the stretch too far. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Neck Side bends – Still sitting straight, let your head fall to one side, so your ear is as close to your shoulder as it will comfortably go. Extend slowly until you feel a gentle stretch in the neck muscles. If you wish you can use the weight of your hand to pull your head down slightly. Do not actively pull the head or allow the stretch to become painful. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
- Neck Twists – Remain sitting with your back in a good posture and twist your neck to look as far over the shoulder behind you as feels comfortable. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 5 times on each side.
PLEASE NOTE: These stretches should feel comfortable; the aim is to take the stretch as far as it will naturally go and then relax into the stretch. As soon as you feel any pain, STOP.
You should also aim to get up and move at least every hour. A good rule of thumb is to take a break from tech devices such as computer screens, tablets and mobile phone for 5 minutes every hour. This will not only help keep you from becoming stiff and sore from sitting in the same position, it will also give your eyes a break from the screen.
Seeking advice from an osteopath if you have this kind of pain will be very beneficial to you. We will consider the issue based on a holistic approach by treating the whole body, not just the symptoms you come to us with.
We will advise you on the kinds of exercises and stretches that will be most beneficial to help you along the path to reducing your pain and inflammation, restoring your normal range of motion and eventually getting you back to full function. We will also give you the advice you need to help you prevent the condition from reoccurring. This could be about how to improve your posture, make changes in your work environment or a recommendation for specific exercises to help you keep generally fit and well.
If you would like to arrange to see one of our osteopaths, please contact us here.