Tech neck or text neck, which causes neck pain, muscle stiffness, and other symptoms, develop due to the regular use of mobile devices without proper posture. Because of factors like increasing smartphone use and more populations working from home, tech neck has become more common each year. Though it might have a lighthearted name, health professionals warn that the symptoms of tech neck can progress and become serious issues.
The symptoms that most people associate with tech neck are pain, soreness, and tension in the upper back and neck. Some may experience more localized pain that affects a specific area, like the shoulders or the trapezius muscle. In particularly severe cases, it can cause headaches or muscle spasms.
As the name implies, tech neck stems from viewing digital devices at certain angles. The average person’s head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. When leaning forward at roughly 60 degrees — the angle that many people use to look at devices like phones and tablets — the neck muscles must support around 60 pounds of stress. Computer users often adopt similarly poor viewing angles when looking at their monitors. This constant stress leads to muscle soreness and inflammation, potentially resulting in long-term damage and postural changes.
Early Warning Signs
Despite the name, some of the earliest signs of tech neck begin in the back. Mild symptoms that can act as warning signs for tech neck include upper back pain and neck ache. Some people do not have pain early on in the condition’s progression and instead experience neck and shoulder stiffness and general loss of mobility in that region.
Increase in Frequency
Medical experts have reported a significant increase in neck and back pain in recent years. The prevalence of neck pain is almost the same in late adolescence and adulthood and is equal to the prevalence of lower back pain. Many professionals believe that device usage and conditions like tech neck are responsible for neck pain affecting such a large population across different age groups.
Complications and Long-Term Effects
While there is a lack of research into the long-term effects of tech neck, professionals have suggested a few possible complications. One of the primary concerns is that it could spread to the shoulders and upper back, causing chronic pain and nerve root irritation. Initially, this would cause tingling and numbness but could progress to pain radiating through the arms. There is also the potential for vertebral disk slippage.
Because tech neck symptoms originate from overworking the neck and back muscles, immediate treatment usually involves relaxing those regions. First, avoid staying in one position for too long. Reduce inflammation in the area by applying a cold pack for up to 20 minutes, several times each day. After a few days, feel free to alternate hot and cold. Some people find relief with warm showers or heating pads.
Physical therapy is often the best choice for managing chronic pain issues like tech neck. For people who wish to exercise without a physical therapist, stretches like chin tucks are an efficient and easy way to alleviate minor symptoms. Sitting up straight, start by tucking the chin into the neck, creating a double chin. Hold the end position for a few seconds before lifting the head, as if a string was pulling it upward.
For less severe tech neck symptoms, over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can provide some relief. In extreme cases, a doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers like muscle relaxants or tricyclic antidepressants. Some people require corticosteroid injections near the nerve roots in the cervical spine or upper back muscles.
Tech neck is preventable with a few lifestyle changes. Strengthening the neck and upper back muscles can limit the effects of poor posture. Experts also recommend taking breaks from devices every 30 minutes to an hour. Perform stretches like chin tucks regularly. Adjust the workstation so that the neck does not have to bend in an extreme way to look at the monitor — one rule of thumb is to have the eyes in line with the top of the monitor, so they only angle down a little, without involving the head itself. When using a handheld device, avoid holding it in ways that require lower viewing angles.
Though the long-term effects of tech neck largely remain unknown, most health professionals believe the condition could have severe complications. Preventative measures are relatively simple to perform, so most people should have positive prognoses. However, neck pain is the fourth most common cause of disability in the world and the prevalence continues to grow. The added effect of getting “lost” in what we are doing on our digital devices makes it difficult to remember not to fall into these bad — and potentially harmful — positions, but being mindful about posture when on a device is the best way to avoid future issues.