Technology is everywhere. Computers, video games, smart phones, iPods, iPads, and tablets. It’s a tech world, and most people spend an average of two to four hours a day looking at their smartphones – usually in a neck-bent position. Over the course of a year, this adds up to between 700 and 1,400 hours. Busy parents are organizing their jam-packed calendars and people of all ages scrolling through photos via countless social media accounts.Work often requires employees to keep up with meetings or e-mails and utilize search engines, apps (applications) or GPS (global positioning system). All of these uses have something in common – they’re all at risk for a popular term called “tech neck” or “text neck.”
Any device that users tend to have to hunch down or crane one’s neck to look at is poor and improper posture for the neck. Holding a phone between your neck and shoulder may seem like a good hands free option, but this position is also unhealthy for your neck. The simple movement of looking down to do something on your phone doesn’t require much exertion so it may not seem harmful, but it’s the duration and repetition of working against the natural body mechanics that set us up for unnecessary muscular strain and increased stress on the neck muscles, upper back, and arms. This can cause tension headaches, pain, and potential disc injury. There is a domino effect starting at the head, causing the upper back to drift backwards to compensate, the hips then have to tilt forward to counteract resulting in the lower back being put in a compromised position. So back pain complaints are common as well.
When you bend your head down, the head ios no longer supported by the whole system of the vertebrae, but only by the neck. In a neutral position-ears lined up with the shoulders, shoulder blades pulled in- there is relatively little stress on the neck. The average adult head in the upright position weighs between 10-12 pounds but as it is bent forward or the head is tilted the amount of the weight on the cervical spine increases dramatically. A fifteen percent angle increases to 27lbs., 30 percent angle 40lbs., 45 degree angle 49lbs., and a 60 degree angle is 60lbs. A 45-degree angle is the position commonly used for staring into a smartphone screen. That’s a massive weight load that the neck is not designed to carry. As that weight increases and the spine falls further out of alignment undue pressure is added to the spine.
Over time, these postural bad habits can lead to severe changes in our spine leading to chronic pain. However, how we hold our bodies while we interact with our devices is under our control. So tech neck is preventable! It’s not realistic to think people will give up their phones and other devices so here are some quick tips.
Solutions and Prevention
- Sit in a chair with a headrest. The ergonomics of your chair can help you maintain correct posture and avoid tech neck. Switch to a chair that has a headrest and keep the back of your head flush against the headrest while you use your screen. Holding your head in this position will prevent you from looking down with your neck flexed forward. Use a lower back support in your work chair will also guide yourself into a healthier posture.
- Raise your screen higher. Try changing positions. Hold or place something under your phone or tablet to elevate your device to get up close to eye level or keep it near your mouth or chin level and use your eyes to look slightly downward to avoid sloping or bending your head forward. If your arms get tired when holding the device, rest your elbows on a tabletop to prop your arms up on a table or armrest comfortably. If you work on a laptop, get a second monitor and adjust the height. Use an external keyboard to type comfortably if needed
- Be aware of your posture and continually practice good posture. Stand up Straight. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as we continue to align our bodies with a healthy posture, we’re working the right muscles. They, in turn, become stronger and develop muscle memory to maintain our bodies in their proper positions. Eventually, poor posture will start to feel uncomfortable. Keep your head up, shoulders back and chin tucked in just a bit. Whenever you feel yourself straying, pull your body back to this position throughout the day.
- Do some exercises. Stretch it out. While you’re studying or working, take short breaks to do some simple movements like rolling your shoulders backwards 10 times. You can do this anywhere. You may be hunching your shoulders up as you work at the computer without even realizing it. Sit up as tall as possible. Move your chin down towards your chest like a turtle 10 times. Look to the ceiling 10 times. Arch over a chair 10 times. Gently turn your head over one shoulder, then the other.
- Limit the time spent on these devices. If you can’t seem to limit the amount of time and frequency that you use your phone, make sure to take breaks in between to change position and readjust your posture. Develop a habit of taking a 2-3 minute break every 30 minutes to help realign your spine and give those neck and upper back muscles a chance to rest. You can even use the alarm on your device to remind you when to take a break from looking down at your phone. Just a few minute break can do a body good.
- Use pain as a warning sign. Listen to your body. If you experience pain in your neck, between the shoulder blades, numbness or tingling in the arms, or frequent headaches, there may be a more serious issue going on. Pay attention to these warning signs and act quickly to make changes to reduce or eliminate any head-forward posture straining your neck. Try all or some of the above methods and see which ones work for you. If your neck pain symptoms don’t improve, it may be time to seek help from a qualified health professional.
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