Electronics can be a pain in the neck—literally. For many of us, we spend all day on the computer, only to come home and stare at our phones for most of our evening. And then, we wake up and do it all over again. Looking down at these devices for up to 16 hours a day places a huge strain on the neck to hold the head up. The resulting condition has been termed “tech neck.”
As the cute kid in the movie Jerry McGuire once asked, “Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds?” Technically, the average human head actually weighs between 10 and 12 pounds when you’re looking straight ahead. However, when you look down at your phone, your neck and shoulders have to support double the weight. That’s a lot to ask of the body every single day!
Symptoms of tech neck include sharp, stabbing pain in one spot of the neck, shoulders or upper back, headaches, stiffness, and jaw pain. Even the arms and hands can begin to experience tingling and numbness due to spinal nerve inflammation. If you’re not already experiencing these symptoms, consistent use of computers, tablets, and phones could inspire these aches and pains in the future. Luckily, there are many ways to treat and prevent tech neck from developing or worsening.
1. Don’t sit up straight
Contrary to what we’ve always been told, sitting up straight can actually harm us. When you’re sitting at a desk, it’s actually better to lean 25 to 30 degrees back in your chair. Sitting up straight puts too much weight on the lower back and forces the neck muscles to contract to support the head. Leaning back slightly alleviates these problems by providing lumbar support to the back and relaxing the neck muscles.
2. Change the position of your screens
Although looking at our computers and phones every day is something most of us can’t avoid, there is plenty of room for improvement in how we look at them. It’s natural for us to look down at our phones, but you can ease neck pain by holding the screen at eye level and resting your elbow on your leg or desk to keep your arm from getting sore.
When you’re working, connect your laptop to external monitors and adjust them to a height that doesn’t strain your neck. Take it a step further and request a standing desk to support your posture while minimzing the pressure on your neck and back.
A great way to prevent and counteract neck pain is to stretch and build up your muscles. Taking a yoga class is a great way to experience relief but even just a few stretches can make a difference. For example, both the Triangle pose and Cat-Cow pose target the aches and pains your neck, shoulders, and spine.
Exercising for at least 30 minutes (3 to 4 times a week) can benefit your body in a number of ways. When you get your heart rate up during prolonged aerobic exercise, endorphins are released and neck pain can be naturally reduced. Plus, blood flow helps the neck loosen and relaxes muscles. If you’re a beginner, start with walking and work your way up to jogging or spinning.
5. Take breaks from your devices
For those of us who treat our phones like another body part, decreasing our screen time seems upsetting and impossible. However, this is an essential way to decrease the symptoms of tech neck. There are apps to help you limit the time you spend scrolling on social media and that track just how you use your screen time. When you’re at home or with friends, agree to disconnect from your devices and enjoy the time with your loved ones in other ways.
When you’re at work, set a reminder to get up and taking a break from your desk every few hours. It might feel strange at first, but just five minutes away from your desk can make a big impact. If you work in an office, we suggest taking a walk around the building or downstairs to a different department. And, for those that work from home, try walking around the block or the house while completing a quick chore.
6. Maintain proper posture
You’ve likely been told to have “good posture,” but what exactly does that mean? If you have good posture, you should be able to draw an invisible line from your ear to your shoulder. Keep your chest open and your shoulders down and back. Maintaining this position while you’re standing and walking decreases the amount of stress on your neck. Plus, good posture makes you look taller and can inspire more confidence.
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The term “tech neck” sounds silly but it is a very real, painful condition that many people experience. In a world that relies so heavily on technology, it is important to find a way to use our devices without negatively impacting our health. While certain adjustments may feel strange at first, taking these small steps can make a big difference. Now that you’ve finished this blog, we’re happy to remind you to close your computer or put down your tablet or phone to give your neck a much-needed break!