Have you ever looked up from your phone after an hour (or more) of scrolling through TikTok and found that your neck feels stiff? Does your upper back hurt after a long day of working on the computer? Are you looking down to read this article right now? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’ve probably experienced tech neck. You’re not alone, though. With American adults spending over 11 hours a day consuming content, most of us have tech necks and poor posture from using our devices, whether we realize it or not. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a long-term issue. Read on to learn more about the causes of tech neck and the easy ways it can be treated.
What is tech neck?
Some refer to tech neck as the lines or loose skin on the neck from constantly looking down at our phones. And while that’s not untrue, it’s important to note this concern is much more than skin-deep. Chiropractors, physical therapists, and surgeons alike have characterized tech neck as the strain and pressure put on the cervical spine due to poor posture. It’s most commonly caused by–you guessed it–looking down at technology.
According to William Kemp, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Virginia Spine Institute, this slight change in posture can weigh on us (literally). “The human head already weighs roughly twelve pounds,” he stated. “Even tilting your neck 15 degrees is like 27 pounds of extra strain put on your spine.” That may not seem like a big difference, but over time this can lead to neck and shoulder pain, muscle tightness, muscle stiffness, headaches, numbness, tingling, and overall discomfort. If tech neck is left untreated, these symptoms will likely persist, and additional posture abnormalities like a curved back, hunched shoulders, and forward head posture can occur.
How to treat it
Practice neck stretches
Mandy Armitage, MD, Medical Director of Editorial Services at GoodRX, recommends stretching to help improve the range of motion and ease tension in the neck. Practice side-to-side bends by bringing your ear toward your shoulder, holding for 5-10 seconds on each side. After completing a few reps, move onto forward and backward bends by lowering your chin to your chest and holding. Then, stretch your chin toward the ceiling and hold again. The next movement is side-to-side turns. Here, a similar motion is made to feel a stretch along the side of your neck. Pulling your chin and head back (not down) to perform a chin tuck can also help stretch the sides of your neck and the base of your skull. An even deeper stretch can be achieved by placing your hand behind your head and gently pulling your head down toward your armpit on each side.
Try foam rolling
In addition to stretching, foam rolling can increase mobility and relieve pain caused by tech neck. Body-alignment specialist Lauren Roxburgh (named the “Body Alignment Pro” by Vogue) shares foam rolling techniques to align the head, neck, and shoulders in her book Taller, Slimmer, Younger. An easy move to try? Lie down with your back against a foam roller. Place the base of your head along the edge of the foam roller. Then, move your head left to right for several reps until you feel the tension begin to release.
Try a standing desk or laptop stand
Despite tech neck also being referred to as “text neck,” our phones aren’t the only culprit. Our desk and computer set-ups are also factors. Just think about how many hours you spend hunched over your computer at work every day. (That number has only increased now that Zoom calls have replaced IRL meetings). This is why posture expert and ergonomist Michael Jones, MS, CErg recommends using a standing desk or laptop stand to prevent tech neck. “Without using a laptop stand, you will notice you start to adopt a slouching posture which increases your risk of tech neck,” he said. “A laptop stand will give you a more upright posture by bringing your monitor up to eye level, thus reducing the risk for forward head posture.”
Strengthen your back muscles
Since the tech neck posture adds so much weight and pressure to our delicate necks and spines, Jones also suggests practicing reverse posture exercises. These strengthen our back muscles to take some of the strain off our necks. He suggests implementing strength training exercises like dumbbell or resistance band rows, rear delt flies, and face pulls. These moves target the muscles in our upper backs, which attach to the occipital bone of the skull.
Set time limits
If you have an Apple Watch, you’re probably familiar with its frequent “time to stand” alerts. While these notifications can be annoying when you’re in the middle of a long meeting, they do serve as an important reminder to take breaks throughout the day. Kemp agrees, suggesting tech neck sufferers “try setting timers for 45-60 minutes at a time, taking short breaks in between to give both your brain and your neck a much-needed break from the stress of technology.” This break is also a great time to take a few deep breaths, do some simple stretches, and reset your posture to help release build-up in the body.
Reduce device usage
I know, I know. (Insert eye roll here.) But there’s a reason why tech neck is a modern-day ailment. Because technology infiltrates so much of our daily lives, it can be beneficial physically and mentally to take time away from our devices. Consider adopting hobbies that don’t include looking at a screen. Perhaps, set up screen time limits on your phone and computer. Cut back on the number of hours you spend looking down at your devices.
Take advantage of tech
This might sound counterintuitive since our use of technology got us into this mess. However, there are ways it can improve our posture. Ingrid Yang, MD is a physician and certified yoga therapist who advocates for the pivotal role that technology can play in our health and wellness: “Studies show that smart wellness wearable tools can help you form new healthy habits by the mind-body connection,” she said. “From good posture to mindful breaks, these devices provide real-time biofeedback to help you become aware of what you’re doing and provide gentle reminders to move into positions that keep you strong and pain-free.” Try utilizing the health app on your iPhone, downloading a habit-tracking app, or wearing a posture corrector that connects to your phone.
Please consult your doctor before beginning any at-home treatments for tech neck or other related health concerns, and return to the doctor if pain or other symptoms persists.