Computers, smartphones and tablets make life more convenient, but using them frequently also increases the risk of a condition known as "tech neck." This condition occurs when you spend a lot of time looking down or holding your head in one position to look at a screen. Tech neck is associated with pain, stiffness and soreness in the neck and shoulders. The more time you spend using a computer or mobile device, the higher your risk of developing bothersome symptoms.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce the amount of stress you put on your neck and shoulder muscles. Follow these tips to reduce pain and increase your range of motion.
1. Take Plenty of Breaks
You're more likely to develop tech neck if you work at a computer or use a mobile device for long stretches of time. To avoid neck pain and stiffness, take plenty of breaks while you're using your favorite device. Aim to take one break for every 30 minutes you spend on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
If you're at home, you can use the time to walk around the block, tidy up your desk or take care of a quick chore. At work, break time is ideal for catching up with a coworker or walking up and down the hall to stretch your legs.
2. Adjust the Height of Your Desk
Tech neck typically occurs when you spend a lot of time tilting your head down to see your screen. If you develop pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders, you may benefit from adjusting the height of your desk. If your desk is at the right height, you won't have to look down every time you're reading an electronic document or writing something for other people to review.
When you adjust the height of your desk, aim for a height that puts the top line of your computer screen at or below eye level. You shouldn't have to tilt your head forward to see what's happening on the screen. If you do, keep adjusting your desk until your monitor is at the target height in order to avoid tech neck.
3. Maintain Good Posture
The term "posture" refers to how you hold your body. Dynamic posture is how you hold your body while it's moving, and static posture refers to how you hold yourself when doing stationary activities, such as sleeping and sitting. Good posture is important when avoiding tech neck because it can keep you flexible, reduce stress on your muscles and make it easier for your body to digest food, breathe and perform other critical tasks.
Follow these tips to improve your static posture while sitting in front of a computer or using a mobile device:
- Keep your feet on the floor instead of crossing your legs.
- Get up and walk around as often as possible.
- If your feet don't touch the floor, use a footrest for extra support.
- Sit in a well-padded seat and keep your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- When using a computer, keep your elbows bent between 90 and 120 degrees. They should be close to your body, not extended away from your body.
- Use a lumbar support cushion to give your back extra support.
4. Invest in a Monitor Stand
If you can't adjust the height of your desk, using a monitor stand may bring you relief from tech neck. Some of the most common types of monitor stands are monitor risers, mechanical risers and monitor holders. A monitor riser is one of the most inexpensive options, making it ideal for a home office. Risers aren't adjustable, but they lift up each monitor, eliminating the need to tilt your head forward to see the screen.
Mechanical risers are more expensive, but they're also adjustable. If you have several computer users in your household, you can purchase a mechanical riser and let everyone adjust it according to their personal needs when using a shared monitor. Monitor holders can be affixed to any surface, making it possible to adjust the height of the monitor and the horizontal position of the monitor.
5. Replace Your Office Chair
If you have a worn-out office chair, your body may not be getting the support it needs to maintain good posture while you're working. The wrong office chair also makes it difficult to keep your feet flat on the floor while you work, putting extra stress on your body. It's easy to order a chair online, but you may want to visit a local retailer and try out a few chairs before you buy to ensure that your new chair is comfortable and provides the right amount of support.
Consider the following when choosing an office chair:
- Design: If you'll be using the chair at work, ask your company's safety specialist to recommend a chair with an ergonomic design. This type of design aims to increase comfort and reduce the risk of injuries associated with poor posture and repetitive motions.
- Materials: Look for a chair with a cushion that conforms to the shape of your back.
- Adjustable options: Make sure you can adjust the chair as needed to reduce muscle stress in your neck and shoulders. You should be able to move the chair up and down to make it easier to maintain good posture. If possible, get a chair that swivels, so you don't have to turn your head or twist your body every time you need to change positions.
6. Use a Tablet or Smartphone Holder
If you have tech neck because of regular tablet or smartphone use, buy a device holder to eliminate the need to tilt your head. The simplest models sit on a desk or other flat surface, bringing your mobile device into your line of sight and making it easier to see what you're doing. Clip-on holders can be attached to the edge of a desk. They typically have flexible necks, making it possible to adjust them both vertically and horizontally.
7. Exercise Regularly
When you sit up straight, your head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. Tilting your head forward increases its perceived weight on your neck, putting about 50 to 60 pounds of force on your neck muscles. If these muscles are weak due to a lack of exercise, this extra stress can lead to tech neck. Exercising regularly strengthens your neck muscles and makes them more flexible, which can ease your symptoms.
You should also aim to exercise your trapezius muscles, which start at the base of your neck and extend through your shoulders and into the middle of your back. Strengthening these muscles can prevent neck and shoulder pain caused by tech neck. If you have strong trapezius muscles, you may also find it easier to maintain good posture while working at the computer.
8. Get Physical Therapy
Physical therapy has many benefits for people suffering from tech neck and other muscle problems, including reduced pain and improved mobility. If you haven't exercised in a while, a trained physical therapist can assess your needs and show you how to perform each exercise safely, reducing your risk of injury. During a course of physical therapy, you'll also work on improving your range of motion and addressing stiffness and soreness caused by tech neck.
9. See a Chiropractor
Professional chiropractic care can help you improve your spine health, reducing or even eliminating the symptoms of tech neck. For best results, a chiropractic treatment plan should be customized to your specific needs. You may have a series of X-rays or an assessment by a trained chiropractor before beginning your treatment, ensuring that you receive exactly the care you need to address your concerns.
How Do Chiropractors Fix Tech Neck?
A chiropractor typically treats tech neck by looking for misalignments in the spine and addressing them with spinal manipulation. During a spinal manipulation session, your treatment provider may realign the vertebrae (small bones) in the spine or apply slight pressure with their hands. Although it usually takes multiple sessions to completely address the spinal misalignments responsible for tech neck, many patients report feeling better after just one session.
10. Try a Standing Desk
Sitting for long periods of time is associated with an increased risk of several health conditions, including tech neck. In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle may be just as dangerous as smoking. Using a standing desk can help you alleviate stress on your neck muscles and reduce the risk of chronic disease, making it a great way to address tech neck at work or at home. If you have trouble standing for long periods of time, alternate sitting with standing throughout the day.
A standing desk should make it easy to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed while you work, especially if you adjust it so that your computer screen is always at eye level. When you use a standing desk, keep your knees relaxed instead of locking them. Keep your elbows parallel to the surface of the desk to prevent pain and other symptoms.
11. Relax Your Shoulders
If you have a tendency to hunch your shoulders while you work, this can make the symptoms of tech neck even worse. Make a conscious effort to relax your shoulders and keep them pulled back toward your shoulder blades.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Reduce a Tech Neck?
You can reduce the symptoms of tech neck by exercising regularly, seeking professional care and adjusting your work environment to eliminate the need to tilt your head forward when using a computer or mobile device.
Is It Possible to Correct Tech Neck?
Yes, it's possible to correct tech neck if you're willing to change some of your habits. If you don't already exercise regularly, getting more physical activity can loosen up your muscles and reduce stress on your neck and shoulders. Adjusting your posture can keep your spine aligned correctly, easing pain and other symptoms of tech neck. You also need to be willing to adjust your work environment and work habits to eliminate the need to look down when using your favorite devices.
Does Heat Help Tech Neck?
If you have stiffness caused by tech neck, the Cleveland Clinic recommends applying ice for the first 48 to 72 hours and then switching to heat. Applying heat to the affected area can ease pain and stiffness. You can use a heating pad, take a hot shower or soak a washcloth in hot water and then apply it to your neck.
Seek Expert Care for Tech Neck
Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine has experienced physicians, chiropractors and physical therapists on staff to help you recover from tech neck and live a pain-free life. If you currently have chronic neck and shoulder pain caused by frequent computer use or the regular use of mobile devices, contact us at (732) 653-1000 or schedule an appointment.