Tech neck, text neck, one thing’s for sure – device-related neck pain is a modern epidemic. From smart phones to tablets, eReaders and laptops, the technology designed to enhance our lives and give us increased mobility can, ironically, hinder it. Resulting in chronic pain, reduced movement, and – if left unchecked – costly rehabilitation bills.
Caused by an over reliance on mobile devices, tech neck is certainly an increasingly common complaint in our Melbourne CBD physiotherapy clinic. Thankfully, however, it can largely be prevented, without the need to go cold turkey.
What’s the problem with our devices?
They’re lighter and more portable than ever before, so how exactly are our smart phones and laptop computers doing us damage? The answer lies in the posture we assume when reading, typing or texting.
Prolonged flexion of the neck (looking down) encourages a forward shoulder posture which puts the neck further forward, out of the base of support. This means the neck and shoulder muscles need to work harder to hold your head up against gravity. Over time, this overuse can lead to fatigue and chronic neck pain.
The warning signs of tech neck
If you are experiencing the following, take notice:
- Gradual onset of a dull ache and stiffness in the neck and shoulders when using handheld devices/laptops for extended periods
- Nagging or sharp pain at the end of day after prolonged laptop/ tablet/ phone use etc
- Intermittent headaches when using devices
- In extreme cases, you may start to feel numbness/tingling or pain in the arms (If you experience any symptoms in your extremities, you should consult your physio asap.)
How to avoid device-related neck pain
Nobody says you have to turn into a luddite, but limiting your mindless scrolling has numerous benefits for your physical, not to mention mental, wellbeing. Try using an app to track your screen time, and set yourself strict daily limits for social media.
Instead of sending dozens of text messages to the same person, save your neck (and your thumb from RSI!) and consider engaging in the declining art of phone conversation. Popping your phone on speaker or pairing with Bluetooth headphones when out and about will help prevent any crick in the neck caused by lengthy chats.
In the office, instead of emailing that colleague three seats away, drop by their desk and discuss the project in person. And, if you work from home, try to avoid falling into bad habits, like working from your couch or kitchen table. A good ergonomic home office setup is vital for productivity as well as your wellbeing. (If you are unsure where to start, contact us for an at-home ergonomic assessment.)
Regularly read from a tablet or Kindle in bed, or on the bus/train/tram? This could be the underlying cause of your tech neck. To avoid this, sit with your back slightly reclined and prop up your eReader with pillows so that it sits at eye level. This helps to reduce the workload on your neck and shoulder muscles.
Treatment of tech neck
If you are experiencing signs of tech neck, your first course of action (after reducing your screen time) is to book a physiotherapy assessment. Treatment will typically include a combination of soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation and, in some cases, taping. Consider booking a professional ergonomic assessment of your workstation, and seek postural advice.
Your physiotherapist may also prescribe a strengthening program for your back and postural muscles, and the smaller muscles that help stabilise the neck. Working on your posture will be very beneficial and, in the longer term, Pilates may help to prevent recurrence.
With over a decade’s experience, Jane Lau is a senior physiotherapist with a background in private practice in Australia and overseas. A University of Melbourne graduate and member of the original Collins Place Physio team, she is skilled in treating musculoskeletal and sports injuries, with a primary focus on alleviating neck, back and shoulder pain. With expertise in postural analysis technology, workplace ergonomic assessments and biomechanical screening, Jane is in demand for her comprehensive and caring approach.