By Dr Khaled Youssef
Smart phone users spend hours each day hunched over their screens, which often results in stiffness and pain in the neck region, the so called “Tech Neck or Text Neck”. This is a growing concern among healthcare professionals worldwide.
What is Tech Neck?
Tech Neck is not a formal medical diagnosis, but rather a term commonly used for a repetitive stress/strain injury where excessive texting or mobile device use with our head and neck extended too much forward i.e. the hunched position, is believed to be the cause.
How does it occur?
All that time spent on digital devices is bad for your posture, your eyes, and your mood. The majority of the problems arising from Tech Neck involves the musculoskeletal system. The pain will be felt in the neck and can extend to the region of the upper back. This can also lead to a protracted shoulder position that could cause shoulder impingement and pain. The chronic bad posture will not only cause muscle fatigue but will also affect the small joints of the cervical spine adversely and may eventually lead to more serious problems such as nerve root irritation. Other issues related to looking at smart devices for long time include, eye problems such as eye strain, fatigue, negative impact on sight and dryness. Furthermore, there are deleterious effects on concentration and mood that have been reported.
So why does Tech Neck happen? Let me explain more for a better understanding. Our neck comprises of the cervical spine – which includes bones and joints- as well as the supporting muscles and was designed by our creator to support the weight of the head in an upright position. The weight of the head is usually around 6 kgs. In the hunched position, i.e, the neck is bent forward 45 degrees or even more, the force produced by the neck muscle to support the head can be ten times the weight of the head. This will lead to muscular fatigue and eventually pain.
How can Tech Neck be avoided?
Generally speaking, we should make sure to correctly align the head and the rest of the body while using smart devices. It is essential to keep the neck muscles strong, and I cannot stress enough the importance of physical activity and exercise. Initially, if there is mild pain then posture correction, general stretching and regular pain killers may help. If your symptoms persist or pain radiates to your arm or there is numbness in the arms, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
What treatments are available?
Any exercise program to help alleviate neck pain and reduce forward head posture will be focusing on addressing and reversing muscle imbalances to restore a more naturally aligned posture. This can start with general home-based exercises and stretches that can be done to improve the neck’s strength and flexibility, as well as to reduce forward head posture. Though each case is unique, achieving long-term pain relief from Tech Neck usually takes a commitment to regularly do exercises and stretches in the home setting.
The other option includes a formal physiotherapy program; a physiotherapist or other health care professional can start a stretching and strengthening program for the patient’s specific needs. This program is usually performed initially in a clinic setting to ensure that the stretches and exercises are performed in an effective and safe way. Depending on each case, several training sessions may be required prior to advancing to an independent, patient-specific home exercise program.
5 Important Tips
Finally, my take home message is; the best way of treating Tech Neck is certainly prevention, and here are some important tips:
- Hold your device at eye level.
- Look down with your eyes and not your head.
- Take a few minutes break for every 15 to 20 minutes spent on your device.
- Use a holder for your phone or tablet.
- Be careful of your posture when using smart devices.
Dr Khaled Youssef FRCS T&O (UK), FEBOT (Europe), MCh Orth (UK)
Consultant Orthopaedic Shoulder and Upper Limb Surgeon.