Tech-Neck; The Pandemic Within The Pandemic
Tech neck is a condition, which is actually a silent pandemic that started long before the Covid pandemic. In today’s times where everyone is on their gadgets(1), tech neck is a condition that is being experienced by everyone and it is characterized by pain and stiffness in the upper back, pain in the trapezius muscle, localized shoulder pain, muscle spasms and headaches(2, 3, 7, 8).
These days, children are also at high risk for tech neck due to e-learning in the Covid times. We all rely on different gadgets and screens to get on with our daily life, such as working from home or video chatting with family and friends in the Covid pandemic etc.
On top of all this, whenever there are any upcoming election, it adds more to the screen time by gluing you to the news on any available screen.
“Tech neck” is the neck position, which we all subconsciously adopt when browsing, scrolling or working at our screens. The position of tech-neck consists of jutting out of the chin, slouching of shoulders, and flexing of our neck to look down at your keyboard, phone etc(1, 7). This unnatural position results in strain and trauma to the neck area and upper back, causing discomfort, stiffness and pain(3, 7). Eventually, all this leads to bad posture and host of other issues.
Symptoms of Tech-Neck (3, 7, 8)
Symptoms of Tech-Neck consist of pain and stiffness in the upper back and neck; muscle spasms; trap pain; headaches and localized shoulder pain(7, 8). Sometimes, one can also experience burning, aching, throbbing, stabbing and even tingling and numbness radiating towards their hands(7, 8).
Prevention of Tech-Neck or The Tech-Neck “Vaccine” (6, 7)
Ever since this Covid pandemic, there has been increase in patients suffering from symptoms of tech neck and this is creating more awareness among people regarding this condition.
People generally do not pay attention to the position of how they are seated unless until they start experiencing pain. After the development of the Tech-Neck symptoms, then only people realize their “position” and think about doing something. Taking corrective action to improve their posture or position can take a long time and even the symptoms of pain from tech neck can take some months to develop.
Many of us do not possess ergonomically correct chairs when working on a computer; and also working on laptops causes one to lean over and cause increase in tech neck. On top of all this, the stress of this uncertain situation also increases the physical stress in the body and increases the chances of tech neck.
Some of the effective ways to prevent and staying clear of the tech neck pandemic are:
Paying Attention to Your Posture(3)
The first and obvious way to prevent tech neck is adopting the correct posture by sitting with the shoulders rested against the back of the chair and the keyboard on your lap. This position will prevent you from bringing your shoulders and chin forward and also prevent leaning into the screen. Leaning forward towards the screen and typing is becoming an increasing reason for development of tech neck.
Re- Design Your Workstation; Especially the One At Home(3)
As most of us are working from home, our home offices tend to be our beds, sofas or the dining room tables; and these are not conducive to a good posture or position when working. So, it is important that we establish a proper workstation at our homes to prevent injury and tech neck when working. The changes in the home workstation can be considered a type of medical treatment and can be considered a tax write-off. You doctor can give the required medical letters to document the requirement for an improved and ergonomically designed workstation at home for preventing tech neck. Your physical therapist can advise you to assess and design your home workstation(5).
Remember to Take Breaks When Working(3)
One of the best ways to prevent tech neck and its associated problems is taking frequent breaks from working at your computer at least every half-an-hour to an hour. When taking this break, get up, walk around, stretch your shoulders and neck muscles. Try avoiding the use of your smart phone except for attending calls, as phone was meant to be. If you are on a long meeting on your phone, then it is advisable to get a cell phone holder to place your phone at your eye level and talk comfortably.
Taking regular breaks and stretching helps in keeping the blood circulation going and also prevents stiffening of joints and muscles. Leaving or keeping the neck in the same position for extended period of time leads to discomfort and pain, eventually leading to tech neck.
4. Stretch, Stretches & Stretching(3)
Like mentioned before, it is important to take breaks and stretch your body regularly. Performing Brugger exercises also help a lot and include:
For performing these exercises, first you need to sit straight at the edge of your chair by extending your arms behind your body. Next, squeeze together your shoulder blades and keep your palms face up while keeping your chin tucked in. Keep this position for about 25 to 30 seconds and take deep breaths. Repeat this exercise 4 to 5 times. You can use bands for strengthening your upper back muscles with exercises, such as scapula rows.
The Stretch to Avoid: One thing to avoid, which most people do when suffering from pain and tightness in the neck, is stretching the neck by touching the chin to the chest. This should be avoided as this further exacerbates the weakness and elongation of the posterior neck muscles caused by tech neck. The fact of the matter is stretching should be done the other way round, that is the front part of the neck should be stretched and the back part of the neck should be strengthened not stretched.
Treatment for Tech Neck.
Treating tech neck consists of a combination of stretching exercises for the anterior shoulder muscles and physical therapy exercises for strengthening the muscles of the neck and upper back. Other than this, one can also try conservative measures, such as application of cold or warm compresses over the neck and shoulder muscles. Over-the-counter medications and creams also help with the pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulder muscles.
Chiropractic adjustment is an alternative treatment to help with fixed joints. Acupuncture and massage are other alternative treatment for tech neck that can help loosen and soothe the tight neck and shoulder muscles.
All these treatment measures help alleviate the tech neck symptoms for short term; however, for long term treatment for tech neck, one should realize the dangers of prolonged use of tablets, computers and smart phones and make a conscious effort to change your lifestyle by being more active and participating in outdoor activities. This important lifestyle change is what will effectively prevent and cure the tech neck pandemic(5). If the pain from tech neck persists or worsens, then it is important to seek professional help. It is important to undertake the proper measures in treating tech neck and its symptoms, as ignoring this problem can lead to permanent disability too.
Helping Our Kids in Avoiding Tech Neck
Kids will only understand the importance of correct posture and the hazards of overuse of gadgets only if the adults do. Children follow by example; and it is our responsibility to make the kids understand the consequences of sitting for extended periods of time on their smart gadgets with a bad posture.
It is important that children be educated on the right habits and lifestyle and the importance of correct posture. This younger generation is at higher risk for not only tech neck, but pains and aches while aging along with increased risk for surgery due to damage from the screen time combined with bad posture spent during their younger years.
It is important that parents set up a proper study center for e-learning for their kids at home, as children like adults also use dining room table or sofa for their studies online. What parents can do is make sure their posture is correct and they are seated comfortably with their feet on the stool or floor (as required) and that their device is at their eye level. Parents should also ensure that their children are frequently getting up and moving around to not only rest their eyes but also to get their muscles stretched and blood flow moving.
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