Treating the effects of digital devices
Up to 80% of American households have “high connectivity”, defined as having a computer, smartphone, tablet, and broadband internet connection.1 As digital media is increasingly prevalent, so is its impact on the body. One of the most common conditions is cervical kyphosis, commonly known as “tech neck”.
Tech neck occurs when people overstress the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and upper back as they strain to read the screens of their phones, tablets and computers. Whether it’s from scrolling through emails while pushing a shopping cart, or spending day after day in a less-than-ergonomic home office setting, the condition is affecting people of all ages. Anyone who uses digital media can experience tech neck.
Much more than just a pain in the neck
The human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds.2 Bending and rotating it even slightly causes the weight to increase, ratcheting up the pressure on the bones and muscles that support it. 3 Daily scenarios that cause people to hold their head in an unnatural position for long periods can lead to tension headaches, muscle spasms, pain, and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and spine. Symptoms build up gradually and then come and go, making tech neck easy to brush off or simply “live with”.
Over time this can also take a toll on natural functions such as breathing and sleep. 4 Like any condition that throws off the body’s natural alignment, tech neck causes a ripple effect up the kinetic chain. Straining the muscles of the neck puts excessive pressure on the discs.
Treating tech neck
Patients should talk to their doctors about their neck, shoulder, and back symptoms and get their feet scanned for faulty foot biomechanics that can be contributing to pain and discomfort in all areas of their bodies, including the neck and shoulders.
Relieving tech neck typically involves a treatment protocol that focuses on modifying the factors that led up to it. Non-invasive methods like adapting environments and body positions and exercises that strengthen the neck and back are most likely to be effective in providing pain relief and reducing the risk for injury.
A chiropractor or physical therapist can assess patients for tech neck and evaluate their entire body for alignment issues that could be contributing to their symptoms and hinder their recovery. Treatment will most likely begin with lifestyle modifications. Those could include using ergonomic support like a headrest or lumbar pillow in a home office and investing in quality furniture rather than working from the sofa or kitchen table. Regular and timed exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles throughout the day and learning healthy body alignment of the neck, back, and shoulders during all activities should also be included in care.
Explore proven solutions for restoring and maintaining healthy alignment
Foot Levelers custom orthotics can help patients establish and maintain natural body alignment from the feet up. This restores proper position of the points in the kinetic chain and helps eliminate undue stress in the hips, spine and shoulders that cause the body to sag and lean forward. They can also increase comfort and support during movement so that patients are able to be more active. Custom orthotics are a non-invasive, easy-to-use solution that aligns with proactive wellness.
A chiropractor may also recommend:
- Supportive pillows like the Pillo-Pedic® Therapeutic Pillow to help maintain neck and spine alignment during sleep.
- Rehabilitation tools like the BACKSYS® and NECKSYS® systems which can be used in conjunction with chiropractic care to help restore muscle integrity through exercise.
Tech neck is here to stay
Doctors estimate that seven out of ten people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives, and for 50% to 85% of them, it will return within the next five years.5 As digital usage is expected to only continue to increase, care should involve not just relieving pain, but the ongoing assessment of patient lifestyles and environments that contribute to tech neck and making appropriate recommendations on healthy habits.
1 Ryan, Camille, “Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2016,” American Community Survey Reports, ACS-39, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2017.
2 NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/11/20/365473750/keep-your-head-up-text-neck-can-take-a-toll-on-the-spine
3 Hansraj, Kenneth, "Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head", Surgical Technology International, 25: 277-9, New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, November 2014 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268234150_Assessment_of_stresses_in_the_cervical_spine_caused_by_posture_and_position_of_the_head
4 Harvard Health EDU, Harvard Health Publishing and Shmerling, Robert H. M.D., Corresponding Faculty, Harvard Medical School, Senior Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/neck-pain-a-troubleshooting-guide-to-help-you-relieve-your-pain-restore-function-and-prevent-injury
5 Jintae, Han, Soojin, Park, Youngiu, Kim, Hyeonnam, Lyu, "Effects of forward head posture on forced vital capacity and respiratory muscles activity", 28(1): 128–131., U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4755989/