You might be familiar with rubbing your neck and shoulders after long hours on your computer or on your smartphone. Tech neck is a term used to describe the forward posture of the neck and injuries associated with prolonged computer and mobile device use. Neck pain, headaches, sore thumbs, and wrists seems like obvious consequences of prolonged smartphone and computer use. However, there are other serious underlying health problems that could be associated with tech neck. In this article, we will discuss the health problems related with tech neck and what you can do to fix tech neck.
Tech neck and neck pain
Tech neck by itself doesn’t always cause neck pain. (1) For example, smoking, prolonged mental stress, and previous trauma to the neck are also risk factors for getting neck pain. In saying this, sitting for long periods of time and poor posture (tech neck) play a major part in getting neck pain.
Tech neck is becoming common as more people are found hunched over their smartphones. This is especially true with children and teenagers. About 85% of the Canadian and US population own a smartphone now. (2, 3) With increased smartphone usage, people sit more and this causes an increase in stress and tension in the neck and spine.
Furthermore, teenagers who report constant pain are at an increased risk of chronic recurrent pain as adults. (4, 5, 6, 7) In general, most people ignore their pain or don’t get proper treatment. Under these circumstances, damage builds up in the spine over a long period of time. Consequently, when children are well into adulthood they start to develop neck pain or back pain more often.
Tech neck and other health conditions
Degeneration and arthritis of the neck
As I have noted, using a smartphone for long periods of time can damage your neck over time. In fact, sitting with your head forward for long periods of time creates sprains (small ligaments tears) and strains (small muscle tears). These strains and sprains result in chronic muscle tension, degeneration of the joints (arthritis) and discs (shock absorbers between the spinal bones), and decreased mobility in your neck. (8, 9, 10, 11)
You are more likely to develop bad posture if you use a smartphone and computer for prolonged periods of time everyday. Bad posture, from a side view, is where the head and upper body are drawn forward. In effect, when your head and upper body are being drawn forward day after day, you are training it to adopt this position.
Chronic stress and tech neck
Just the presence of your smartphone can cause stress. For example, your biggest stressor when your phone becomes your “best friend” is thinking about getting on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. So you may be in this constant state of stress and you’re not thinking about getting outside to play or go for a walk or run. Rather, you’re thinking about emails you HAVE to attend to or you feel there is a NEED to post something on social media. In reality, your brain is being rewired to stay on alert all of the time.
When you are stressed and sitting for long periods of time with your phone and computer, your brain (the prefrontal cortex region) doesn’t function well. Meanwhile, the part of your brain responsible for your stress response increases in growth (the amygdala). (12) Here are a few things that happen when you are stressed and your brain isn’t functioning well:
- your ability to make good decisions is impaired
- you lose our focus
- you get moody
- your stress tolerance goes down
- your ability to see the big picture in life is reduced
- you lose perspective
Furthermore, if you sit hunched over for hours during the day using your computer and mobile devices your spine will stiffen up. In other words, your spine can become immobile and misaligned (subluxation) and you might develop tech neck. If your spine is misaligned and immobile there will be decreased nerve input into brain (the prefrontal cortex). (13) In turn, nerve and muscle tension can develop which draws your head forward into a tech neck posture. So it becomes a vicious cycle.
When you are in a constant state of stress, your brain is unhealthy, you are prone to develop things like insomnia, headaches, neck pain, gut problems, decreased lung capacity and cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. (13, 14)
Tech neck is the perfect storm to create stress and stress is the perfect storm to create tech neck.
How to fix tech neck with chiropractic care
If you want to fix tech neck, seek out a chiropractor to get a thorough spine and nerve examination done.
Get on a regular schedule to get your spinal check-ups and chiropractic adjustments to keep your spine and nervous system working at a peak level. In this modern day world of increased stress and being sedentary you need this type of treatment on a regular basis to help keep you resilient and functioning well.
Here are a couple of articles if you want to dive deeper into the benefits of regular chiropractic care:
How to fix tech neck with lifestyle strategies
To fix tech neck, you are going to need more than chiropractic care. Here’s an overview of some strategies you can take:
- Limit your screen time to two hours a day or less
- Once a week, you can try and have a digital detox day where you don’t use your smartphone, computer, or tablet at all.
- Use a standing desk or treadmill desk up to 50% of your day when you’re working at your office desk.
- Pick a physical activity you enjoy and do it regularly throughout the week.
- Practice some sort of stress management: meditation, art, gardening, playing music, deep breathing, etc.
- Do regular posture exercises and stretches for your neck and upper back.
Spending prolonged periods of time on our computer and on our mobile devices can cause tech neck. In turn, tech neck has a negative impact on our spine, brain, and nervous system. Furthermore, when you add the chronic stress that smartphone usage creates, you are setting yourself up for conditions like neck pain, headaches, and other chronic illnesses.
You can fix tech neck by getting regular chiropractic care and by implementing the lifestyle strategies I shared with you.
To learn how chiropractic care can help you and your family read our ultimate guide to chiropractic care called ‘Chiropractic Care for Everyone’.