In our digital age, “text neck” has emerged as a common ailment, resulting from long periods spent staring down at smartphones and other handheld devices. As chiropractors, we often see patients dealing with neck pain, upper back issues and shoulder pain, all stemming from this modern condition.
Looking to reduce pain and poor posture caused by too much screen time? Here’s a chiropractor’s take on how to fix text neck and embrace wellness in your daily use of technology.
Understanding Text Neck
Text neck, or tech neck, is a modern ailment stemming from prolonged use of electronic devices. It’s characterized by the forward head carriage and poor posture that occurs when you tilt your head down to view your cell phone, tablet or other mobile device. This position puts undue stress on your neck muscles, cervical spine and shoulder blades.
Although neck pain has historically been a complaint of adults, the pervasiveness of smartphone use by people of all ages means that text neck affects children and adolescents as well.
Symptoms of text neck
- Poor posture, with forward head position and rounded shoulders
- Stiffness in the neck
- Soreness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back
- Reduced mobility or range of motion in the neck
- Chronic headaches
- Pain in the upper back, often extending to the shoulders and arms
- Increased curvature of the spine near the neck (kyphosis)
- Tingling or numbness in the arms and hands
- Eye strain and headaches from prolonged screen use
- General fatigue and discomfort in the upper body
Long-Term Risks of Tech Neck
Tech neck can lead to several long-term complications if not addressed properly.
Chronic neck and shoulder pain
Consistent strain on the neck muscles can result in persistent discomfort and may aggravate pre-existing conditions.
Tech neck involves an increased curvature of the spine, particularly in the cervical region. This abnormal curvature, known as kyphosis, can alter the natural alignment of the spine, leading to long-term issues such as decreased mobility and stiffness.
Spinal misalignment and muscle tightness can compress the nerves in the neck, leading to symptoms like tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hands.
Degenerative spinal conditions
The constant forward tilt of the head adds extra pressure on the spinal discs, accelerating their wear and tear. This degeneration can lead to conditions like cervical spondylosis, which is characterized by chronic pain and reduced function, and spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.
Reduced overall health
The posture associated with tech neck can affect overall physical health, leading to reduced lung capacity, poor circulation and even digestive issues.
How to Get Rid of Text Neck
Healing pain and stiffness caused by phone use is possible. It just requires paying attention to your behaviors, quitting bad habits, and starting new, healthier ways of interacting with your phone.
1. Maintain good posture
Keeping your device at eye level helps maintain a neutral position of the cervical spine. When using a cell phone or other device, ensure your head position and spine are aligned. Keeping your device at a 10-15 degree angle can help maintain this alignment.
If you use a laptop, invest in an external monitor or standing desk so you can work with your back straight, rather than hunching over a screen.
2. Take frequent breaks
If you’re using your phone or device for a significant amount of time, make sure to take frequent breaks. This practice allows your neck muscles and spine health to recover from the strain. Many experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule–after every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away from you.
Moreover, it’s important to be conscious of the amount of time you spend on social media or browsing on your phone. Bad habits formed over time need conscious effort to correct, and reducing your phone time overall can help heal your symptoms faster.
4. Strengthen your upper back:
Strengthening the muscles in your upper back can help combat the effects of slouching. Focus on exercises that target the back muscles and shoulder blades.
5. Visit a chiropractor or physical therapist
Regular chiropractic adjustments can correct misalignments caused by text neck. Chiropractors can also work on trigger points and provide pain relief strategies. Similarly, consulting with a physiotherapist can provide tailored exercises and techniques to effectively address individual imbalances and pain.
6. Make wellness a habit
Incorporate wellness practices like yoga, which emphasizes spine health and good posture, into your daily routine. Try mindful breathing practices to reduce stress and tension, which exacerbate neck pain. Even a practice as simple as conscientiously taking deep breaths throughout the day can help relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
Exercises and Stretches for Tech Neck
Tech neck can lead to neck stiffness, discomfort, and other musculoskeletal issues. Incorporating specific exercises and stretches into your daily routine can significantly alleviate these symptoms. They focus on strengthening the neck and upper back muscles, improving posture, and increasing flexibility, thereby addressing the root causes of tech neck.
Here are some effective exercises for combating tech neck:
This exercise helps strengthen the neck muscles and promotes proper alignment. Sit or stand with your spine straight. Gently pull your head back, aligning your ears over your shoulders, and tuck your chin slightly down. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
To relieve tension and improve flexibility, gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear closer to the shoulder until you feel a stretch along the side of your neck. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Do this 2-3 times per side.
These help reduce shoulder and upper back tension. Sit or stand upright. Roll your shoulders slowly in a circular motion, 10 times forward and 10 times backward.
This stretch addresses the rounded shoulder posture often associated with tech neck. Stand or sit with your hands clasped behind your back. Gently straighten your arms and lift them slightly, opening up your chest. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Upper back stretch
Stand or sit with your arms extended in front of you, palms touching. Round your upper back, separating your shoulder blades as you push your hands forward. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Seated spinal twist
This exercise improves spinal mobility. Sit in a chair, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Twist your torso to the right, placing your left hand on the outside of your right knee for support. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
This exercise is excellent for improving posture and strengthening the upper back and shoulder muscles. Stand with your back flat against a wall, feet about shoulder-width apart. Bring your arms up with elbows bent so your upper arms are parallel to the floor and your fingers point upwards (forming a ‘W’ shape).
Slowly slide your arms up over your head, keeping them as close to the wall as possible, then bring them back to the starting position. Ensure your back—particularly the lumbar region—remains in contact with the wall throughout the exercise. Repeat 10-15 times.
A classic yoga pose, the cat-cow stretch enhances flexibility in the spine and relieves tension in the neck and upper back. Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. As you inhale, arch your back and look up, dropping your belly towards the floor (cow position). As you exhale, round your spine towards the ceiling, tucking your chin to your chest and pushing your shoulder blades apart (cat position). Alternate between these two positions for 1-2 minutes, moving smoothly with each breath.
Incorporating these exercises and stretches into your daily routine can effectively mitigate the symptoms of tech neck. Remember, consistency is key to seeing improvements, and always consult with a healthcare professional if you experience any discomfort during these exercises.
Seeking Professional Help
If you’re experiencing chronic neck pain or discomfort related to text neck, seeking medical advice is crucial. A chiropractor can offer a comprehensive approach to diagnose and treat text neck, providing tailored strategies for relief and long-term wellness.
Remember, text neck is not just a temporary discomfort: it can lead to long-term health issues if not addressed properly. By adopting these strategies and seeking professional care when needed, you can enjoy a healthier, more comfortable life in our tech-driven world.