On average, North Americans spend 5 hours and 53 minutes on digital media every day. If you’re reading this article, you are probably on your phone or sitting at your computer. How’s your posture? If you are looking down to read from your phone, you are applying at least 50lbs of additional pressure to just your neck. For reference, your head weighs about 10lbs and the more you tilt your neck forward, the more force is applied to your neck to support it. Tech neck posture compresses and tightens the soft tissue in the front of the neck while lengthening the structures behind the neck. Over time, your muscles become stiff and you begin training your body to adapt to a poor postural position that can lead to more damage over time.
So do you have tech neck? It has been estimated by chiropractors and physiotherapists that 100% of the population in North America has some degree of tech neck. The severity of it depends greatly on the person, their posture and the activities they do outside of their activities online to mitigate this stress injury. Within the last year, most of the population has observed a more sedentary lifestyle, and also have been spending more time online. What that means is that there is a growing need for awareness and proactive treatment to ensure you stay pain free and at the top of your game.
Symptoms of Tech Neck
Common symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness – reduced range of motion and soreness is the most common symptom of tech neck. If you move your neck from side to side and notice a pull or tightness, that’s a sign to proactively start treating your neck.
- Neck pain – Localized pain or radiating pain can be common. This pain most commonly presents at the lower part of the neck and is described as a dull ache but can also be sharp or stabbing, particularly if you are not doing exercises to work through imbalances or sleep in a position that exacerbates the condition.
- Headaches – Muscle tightness particularly by the neck can lead to tension headaches after prolonged periods sitting at the computer or on your phone.
- Muscular weakness – Shoulder muscles are often weak and the pectoral muscles can get incredibly tight from the internal rotation, leading to more pain and stiffness.
It’s important to take these signs as a warning sign because left untreated they can evolve into arthritis, spinal degeneration, disc compression and thoracic kyphosis.
Since spending days in front of a computer or staying connected through your smartphone is an unavoidable reality for many, what can you do to ensure that you are not causing pain in the short term and more permanent damage in the long run?
Get Moving with Aerobic Exercise
Experts recommend getting up from your chair and taking regular breaks with aerobic exercise. The movement you choose should be something that you enjoy that takes the strain off of your neck and lends to a more relaxed and natural postural position. Exercise can help with stress management and tightness and also helps improve circulation and blood flow. For maximum benefits try to get 20 minutes of aerobic movement daily even if you are only able to get a brisk walk in.
Use muscle scraping tools for quick relief
Sidekick scrapers are the perfect tool to help you get the relief you need throughout the day. Scraping can improve circulation, and help restore oxygen and blood flow to injured soft tissue. The mechanical process of scraping causes an inflammation response to an area where the healing process has slowed due to adhesions and scar tissue. Your body sends signals to send fresh blood to the area to assist in faster recovery. People find that scraping can provide relief in as little as 5 minutes, and most people notice a significant difference after a few sessions. For busy people who don’t have a lot of extra time to dedicate to recovery, we recommend scraping because it is easy to master and gentle on the neck and upper back. Most other recovery tools like percussion therapy cannot be used on the neck, and it can be difficult to get the relief from home otherwise.
Relax your shoulders and tuck your chin
In addition to taking multiple breaks per day (we recommend once every 90 minutes, minimum) to relax your shoulders and reset your posture there are a few simple exercises you can do while sitting at your desk that can also help stretch your neck. Chin tucks are recommended by physios and chiros to help make you increase spinal awareness and relieve tension.
How to do a chin tuck:
- Sit up straight and with your chin parallel to the floor, gently draw your head and chin to your chest as if you’re making a double chin. You should feel a stretch in the back of your neck.
- From there, imagine there is an invisible wire or string guiding your head upward. Push the top of your head away from the base of your neck, elongating your neck through this movement. Relax your face and jaw and hold this position.
- Hold each position for 30 seconds each before slowly transitioning to the next movement. It is not about speed but a connection to your body and slow, intentional movement.
You also can break up your sitting position by gently moving your head from side to side, as if you are trying to touch your ear to your shoulder, returning to center and repeating on the opposite side. Another popular movement is called ‘slow nos’ as if you are moving your head side to side to gesture ‘no’. If you don’t have time to exercise, set a beeper or a soft alarm at your desk to remind you to readjust and be mindful of your posture often.
Get an ergonomic set up for your work station
Many people think that just sitting up straight when working at a computer is enough, and unfortunately many experts also will recite this as a solution. The reality is when you sit with your back completely straight you put a tremendous amount of force on the discs in your lower back and the muscles in the back of your neck also contract to hold your neck up. So even if you have the best of intentions, sitting straight can lead to back and neck pain. So what is the most ergonomic way to stay connected without sacrificing your neck and back health?
- Make sure you screen is directly in front of you so you don’t have to strain to or lean forward to look at your screen.
- Elevate your feet.
- Find an ergonomic chair with adequate lumbar support. When you’re chair shopping it’s also important that you look for an adjustable headrest, arm rest and height.
- Invest in a second screen.
- Try a standing desk because the reality is we aren’t supposed to spend so much of our day in a seated position.
If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to get fancy, you can use books or boxes to elevate your screen and take regular breaks to stretch and move.
Yoga and Stretching
Taking time out of your day to relax and stretch out has many benefits and can help with relieving stress and tension, but it is also a gentle way to strengthen the muscles that are working to hold your head up throughout the day. In order to enjoy the benefits of yoga, you only need to commit to about 10 minutes of movement a day which even during a busy season at work can be manageable with a little bit of planning! Our favorite poses for neck specific stretches are downward facing dog, Padahastasana (forward folds from standing), cat cow, and bow pose. By lengthening the muscles and restoring function to the upper trapezius and serratus, you are preventing further injury and if you stretch with tech neck in mind, you may also be able to reverse or cancel out the issues that are caused by working at a computer or spending time on your smartphone.
Do you suffer from neck pain? What treatments have worked for you?