At a time when social distancing has us quarantined at home, it puts our already technology-obsessed world spending additional time on their phones or various technology devices. While there are many benefits of technology, for many it is becoming a pain in the neck – literally. Did you know the average American already spends over 10 hours a day hunched over their cell phones and tablets? Pair that with the fact that the human head weighs roughly 12 pounds, and it’s no wonder your neck is hurting. “Tech Neck” is defined as the physical stress or strain put on your neck due to poor posture from cell phone or other technology screen use. This undue strain and stress often leads to neck pain, muscle tightness, shoulder and arm pain, and overall discomfort.
During this time of COVID-19 many workers are displaced from offices and are creating remote work environments in their homes. With this trend also comes a host of challenges when we try to improvise with a laptop stand, or end up finding ourselves working from a tablet or phone on our couch. These non-traditional office practices also put us at risk for developing neck, upper back, and arm discomfort. The reason this occurs is that our makeshift workspaces are not ergonomically correct.
At Virginia Spine Institute we have been treating patients with neck pain and neck conditions for nearly 30 years. With the rise of technology use, we have seen an increase in the number of patients who visit us complaining of neck pain and discomfort. What you may not realize is that the most common causes of neck pain, and even headaches, can be attributed to poor posture brought on by ‘tech neck’. We’ve all seen them – adults, teens, and even children with their neck, shoulders, and back all slumped forward looking at their phones, feverishly scrolling for information. These poor posture habits create significant strain on your spine, and can lead to neck pain and more complicated spinal conditions.
The reason for this is simple – tilting your back, neck, and shoulders forward places added stress on the musculature and joints of the spine – from the neck, all the way down to the pelvis. For example, tilting your head forward by even 15 degrees is akin to adding a 27 pound weight to your neck.
Set definitive time limits for screen time before taking a quick break. For example, set a time limit of 30 minutes on the device, set the device down and then break way to rest your neck and your mind. Some find it helpful to set a timer or an alarm on your phone to help remind yourself of these breaks. Double benefit as this will also help to rest your eyes from the blue light of the screen.
Rather than straining your neck forward (up or down) to see the screen, adjust your posture to bring the device to you at eye level. Consciously think about pushing your shoulders back, and bend your elbows until the screen is eye level, that way you aren’t tilting your neck. Additionally pop sockets or stands work well to stabilize your device and help avoid any strain in your shoulders and neck from holding the device. This also is true for laptops or tablets as we tend to rely on the height of the surface they are resting to dictate our posture. Try propping your laptop up on a book to bring it to eye level.
It’s easy to ignore a cramp or tightness in your neck when you are emersed in a youtube video or checking one more email. Often times, neck pain can be managed and overcome in a matter of weeks, but it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms and warning signs. If they don’t clear up with ice/heat, anti-inflammatory medication, or rest, it could be a more complicated case like arthritis, a herniated disc, or even spinal stenosis. Never underestimate or ignore your neck pain!
Dr. Christopher Good is a double board certified spine surgeon and the President of Virginia Spine Institute. Established as a world expert in the field, Dr. Good has pioneered the use of robotics, navigation, and augmented reality (AR) in spine surgery. He performed the first two-level disc replacement in Metro DC, Maryland, and Virginia region, and continues to evolve motion-enhancing procedures for patients suffering from neck and back conditions. Dr. Good has been named “Top Doctor” consistently over the past decade. Learn more about Dr. Christopher Good.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.