The Dangers of Tech Neck
Tech neck, also known as text neck, is a repetitive-use injury that affects the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves in your neck. Of course, you don’t have to be a tech-head to develop a tech neck: Any kind of activity that requires you to bend your head forward for prolonged periods, including reading or sewing, could cause tech neck.
Tech neck may be a silly name, but the condition couldn’t be more serious. Without addressing the habits and causes of tech neck, you could permanently injure your cervical spine (i.e., the thin portion of your spine that runs through your neck).
If you have neck pain or shoulder pain, Brian Fuller, MD, and our team at Mountain Spine & Pain Physicians in Denver, Colorado, ask you to take it seriously. Here, we lay out why tech neck is a literal pain in the neck and what you can do about it.
Your head “gains weight” as you bend
Most human heads weigh about 10-12 pounds when you’re standing upright with the good posture your parents, teachers, and coaches admonished you to develop. The problem is, if you’re bending your neck to look at a smartphone, other device, or even a musical instrument or book, your head weighs a lot more than 10-12 pounds.
As you increase the angle of your neck, the tendons and ligaments that support your cervical spine are forced to support not just your head’s weight, but also the increased forces exerted by gravity’s downward pull. When you tilt your head forward by just 45 degrees, the forces on your head are equivalent to about 50 pounds. Tilt a little further to 60 degrees, and your cervical spine bears an equivalent weight of a whopping 60 pounds.
Because you probably become engrossed in whatever you’re reading or doing with your head bent, you don’t change its position for long periods of time. That prolonged strain on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments weakens them and causes the variety of symptoms associated with “tech neck.” Bending your head forward also changes the natural curves along your cervical spine, causing both hyperflexion and hyperextension.
Tech neck hurts
When you first experience the symptoms of tech neck, you might not even notice them. Early, mild signs that you have a problem include:
· Achy neck or shoulders
· Stiff neck or shoulders
· Slouching posture
If you don’t address tech neck, though, symptoms could become moderate to severe, such as:
· Intense or stabbing pain in your neck
· Intense or stabbing pain in your shoulders
· Decreased mobility of your neck or shoulders
· Muscle spasms
· Tingling sensations
· Shooting pain down your arms or back
When your mild symptoms don’t resolve with rest or stretching exercises, or if you already have moderate or severe symptoms, contact Dr. Fuller for an evaluation and treatment.
Make lifestyle changes
If you only have mild symptoms, Dr. Fuller recommends lifestyle changes to help heal your tech neck. First, of course, stop bending your neck to look at your devices or work. Instead, hold your phone or device at eye level when reading or texting.
You should also elevate computer screens, including laptop screens, to eye level. You might need to purchase a separate keyboard for your laptop to ensure that you don’t bend your neck to look at your screen. Or, just be sure that you sit straight and look down only with your eyes, not your neck.
Also, take frequent breaks whenever you have to use a device or even sit for prolonged periods. Get up on your feet and stretch, and then walk around for at least five minutes. Taking breaks from sitting improves your overall health, too.
If lifestyle changes don’t improve your symptoms, or if they progress, contact Dr. Fuller. Depending on the factors involved in your tech neck, he may recommend therapies such as:
· Epidural injections
· Facet joint injections
· Radiofrequency nerve ablation
If you have pain from tech neck or other reasons, contact us for relief by calling 303-355-3700. You can also request an appointment using our online form.