Chances are that within the last few days, at some point, your neck has had some sort of pain or discomfort. You have also probably noticed that this neck pain has been coming on more frequently than it used to.
A couple of years ago, you might’ve gotten a little stiffness in your neck after sleeping in a weird position or on a bad mattress. But now…now you notice that there isn’t a day that goes by that you aren’t finding yourself rubbing your sore neck!
You’re probably thinking, “Why YES! That’s exactly what’s going on! My neck hurts all the time! Why is this happening?”
Most likely, you have become victim to something that is used so much and so frequently, that you probably have no idea how much harm it is actually causing you. Something you are constantly using in some way or another without the least hint that it’s altering your posture and affecting muscles and nerves in your body.
So what is this unknown, pain-causing culprit?
The answer is a simple one…technology! That’s right. The cause of that achy neck is none other than your phone or tablet that you are constantly using to keep up with everything from the Kardashians to your work email.
Chiropractic physicians are quite aware and have been paying attention to this most recent trend in our society. This epidemic of constant, chronic neck pain has become such a regular occurrence in chiropractic offices, it has been labeled “tech neck.”
Tech Neck is the pain you experience from the strain in your neck of constantly leaning forward while looking at your phone, tablet, or any other technological device.
This strain on your neck is the result of the weight of your head pulling the muscles in your neck forward and causing a significant amount of tension to be put on your spine. Your body is an amazingly constructed machine. The natural curves designed in the spine are made to hold your head with no strain, provided that the posture of your body stays aligned properly.
Being that your head weighs about 10-12 pounds, this is pretty remarkable.
However, with every degree forward your head is tilted, that 10 pounds of weight become a bigger burden to support.
Staring down at your phone or tablet at a 60-degree angle puts a significant amount of pressure on your spine to hold your head up. That 10 pound becomes more like 50-60 pounds.
Now, imagine staring down at your phone or tablet for a couple of hours with 60 pounds around your neck. That’s the equivalent of stacking two cinder blocks on each shoulder and carrying them around all day!
So, now you’re probably thinking, “Wow! That’s a lot of weight!”
It sure is a lot of weight. Way too much for the muscles in your neck to have to hold up! It’s no wonder your neck hurts and you feel exhausted at the end of the day! You’ve probably carried enough bricks around to build the foundation of a house!
Are you wondering what you can do to stop this terrible neck pain and prevent it from getting worse?
Well friend, here’s what you need to do. Below is a very simple list of steps that, if you follow, the weight on your neck and shoulders will be lifted…literally!
Step 1: Pay Attention to Pain…and Put Your PHONE Down!
Let’s just go ahead and state the obvious. Now that you understand what’s causing your neck pain, you know what you need to do.
Put it down.
When you start to feel that first little twinge of ache come on, stop what you are doing and listen to what your body is saying. It’s telling you it’s tired of carrying those cinder blocks and it needs a break!
Pain is your warning that an injury is coming. The stronger the pain, the worse the injury. Paying attention to that first twinge in your neck and shoulders could prevent you from developing a more serious and permanent injury!
When you put the phone down, you will feel relief almost immediately.
So, now you’re thinking, “What? I’m on my phone all the time! There’s no way I can just put it down!
Alright, so limiting the time you spend on your phone is an excellent way to avoid tech neck altogether. Having set times for breaks while using your device is key.
A good rule to follow is that for every 30 minutes you spend on your phone or tablet, spend 3 minutes with the device down! Get up and move around on a regular basis. This will give your cervical muscles, or neck muscles, time to relax without fatiguing from supporting all the weight for long periods of time.
Step 2: STOP Looking Down. Raise that Device UP!
Again, with the obvious. You may notice that once the fatigue of the muscles in your neck starts to set in, you automatically will look up. Your body, that wonderful machine, needs to relieve the pressure that is being put on your spine from all the weight. By keeping devices at eye level, the tension of the neck musculature will be lessened.
Constantly looking down will cause the natural lordosis or inward curvature of the neck to straighten over time. This curvature is important because it not only allows for the weight of the head to be supported, but it also allows for the vertebrae, or bones in the neck, to articulate properly and allow for proper blood flow to the brain to occur. Your cervical lordotic curve also works with the other curves in the spine to allow you to stand and walk without using a great deal of energy from your muscles.
When this curve begins to straighten, or worse, reverse, degenerative changes occur to the bones, the discs that work as shock absorbers between the bones also start to wear out, and the nerves that travel through your neck may become impinged.
The cervical spine, or spine of the neck, is amazingly designed to protect the spinal cord, which sends messages from the brain to the rest of the body. It also consists of tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, and nerves, and allows us to move our neck in all directions.
Another major issue that can occur from the straightening of the cervical spine is that the arteries that supply the blood to your brain could be reduced in diameter because of the degenerative changes to the bones of the neck. These arteries travel through holes in the vertebrae in the neck. Once the bones are forced to articulate in a different manner than they are designed, these holes can narrow. This narrowing causes the blood flow through the arteries to be restricted.
Keeping your tech devices at eye level is key to maintaining the curve in your neck. There are tons of gadgets that can be used for phones and tablets to keep the devices where they need to be in order to avoid tech neck. Also, making sure that you have a proper setup with your desk computer or laptop is a necessity.
Step 3: Maintain Good Posture.
This one may not be as obvious. You probably start your day out sitting correctly. But, as the day goes on, you find yourself slumped over, trying to keep your head up. When your head begins to fall forward, that’s when the pain in the neck starts!
There are several simple ways to help maintain your posture throughout the day so the pain doesn’t have a chance to set in!
First, make sure your office chair fits your body. It should be comfortable and adjustable to allow for your feet to touch the floor. It should also have good lumbar support that sits properly in the small of your back. If the lumbar support is absent, get a small lumbar pillow in order to support your low back.
Next, set reminders around your workspace to remind you to sit up straight. Alerts on your phone or computer, or even sticky notes work fabulously to bring your attention to this issue!
Also, getting up and moving several times a day will help relieve your body from the tightness of constantly sitting! After you get up and move around, your body automatically will reset and get back to the good posture you started with earlier in the day.
If you are constantly using your phone, get a headset. This will eliminate the constant bending of your neck while trying to hold a phone between your ear and shoulder. A headset will also keep you sitting upright in the correct posture. This is a major proactive step to preventing the aches and pains of the tech neck.
Step 4: Massage Those Muscles.
There’s a lot to be said about the automatic response of your body to rub tired muscles! Massage works by applying pressure to muscles to relieve tension and pain. It can also stimulate blood flow and circulation to areas of the body. Going to a massage therapist who can knead and work with strained and fatigued muscles can be amazing for tech neck!
It is very important to see a professional who is trained in massage therapy. Massage therapists go through an intensive study on how to manipulate soft tissues of the body. Not only are they trained in muscles, but they also know how to work with connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) to allow the body to feel relaxed.
And, not only does massage therapy help with the function of the body but taking time to relax and get a massage can give your brain much-needed rest as well. With technology so easily accessible, our brains are over-stimulated, and rarely do we give them time to “reboot.” A massage will provide great relief to your tech neck and will force you to take a break from the constant overload of technological information.
Step 5: Stretch, Stretch, Stretch…then Stretch Your Neck Again!
When the pain in your neck begins, your body automatically wants to work the muscles in a way that will alleviate it. Stretching is what your body needs when the pain sets in. But, it is also what is needed to help prevent the pain from starting in the first place!
The following is a list of very simple stretches that you can do throughout the day without leaving your desk!
- The Chin Tuck. While sitting, clasp your hands behind your head. Place your feet comfortably on the floor, and lean back into your chair. Tuck your chin into your chest and pull your head down gently until you feel a good stretch in the back of your neck and shoulders. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat this several times a day.
- The Chicken Stretch. Sit with your chair against a wall. Look straight ahead and relax your neck. Gently pull your head back towards the wall with your chin tucked in. Make sure your face does not end up in an upward position. The neck should glide back, much like the motion of a chicken neck. You will feel the stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds, then relax. Repeat this stretch 5 times a day.
- Side Neck Stretch. While seated, keep your shoulders level and drop your right arm down towards the floor. Next, take your left arm over the top of your head and place your hand on the right side of your head. Gently pull your head towards the left while keeping your right arm extended towards the floor. You will feel a stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat using the other side. This is a great traction stretch for your neck.
- Behind the Back Neck Stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Allow your arms to hang at your sides. Reach behind your back and clasp your hands. Tilt your head to the right. You will feel the stretch in the right side of your neck and across your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- The Corner Stretch. Stand two feet away from any corner in a room while facing the corner. Place your feet together, and lean into the walls with your forearms pressed into each wall. Your elbows should be just below your shoulders. Lean in as far as you can. You should feel the stretch in your chest and across your shoulders. This stretch will help with the muscles that directly affect your posture. Hold for 30 seconds.
Step 6: Get ADJUSTED!
Chiropractic adjusting is the practice of restoring the proper alignment of the spine in order to allow for the body to reach its optimum level through both function and structure.
Proper alignment of the neck occurs when all of the vertebrae of the cervical spine are lined up correctly on top of each other, allowing for the lordotic curve of the spine to be normal.
Thus, proper alignment of the spine allows for the body to have minimal stress and correct posture. When the neck is in good alignment, the muscles are not tense, the blood flow to the brain is optimal, and the nerves have no impingement that would cause pain.
Tech neck is the result of the cervical spine straightening. Chiropractic adjusting helps to correct the biomechanics of the cervical spine. Biomechanics is how the movement of the spine is impacted by muscles and gravity. This means that chiropractic care can help restore the curvature of the neck, reduce muscle tension and thereby, correct and relieve tech neck.
So, get adjusted!
Fight the Tech Neck Battle!
In conclusion, tech neck isn’t going anywhere. Technological devices are getting smaller and are capable of doing more every day. Everyone, from babies to senior citizens, is utilizing them. Teenagers spend thousands of hours each year on them…and this behavior is starting younger and younger. This means that the convenience of these devices will become a bigger part of life.
With that comes conscious awareness and doing your best to prevent the deterioration of your cervical spine. The curvature of your neck is so very important that it has been known as the arc of life by physicians. This is because the loss of the arc can be devastating to your health.
The key to battling the onset of tech neck is the combination of stretching, good posture, limiting time on devices, massage therapy, and chiropractic care! You only have one neck—protect it. Say no to tech neck!