Is your cell phone, tablet or computer causing you a pain in the neck? Not because the device isn’t functioning properly, but physical pain from looking down at it. If so, you’re likely experiencing a condition known as “text neck syndrome” or “tech neck.”
“Looking down at our phones, tablets, computers and other devices for long periods of time can cause pain and soreness in our neck, shoulders and back,” said Mac Weninger, MD, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “It’s a problem anyone who uses mobile devices may experience.”
“Tech neck” can cause inflammation, stiff necks, neck spasms, pain in the back and shoulders, headaches. Untreated – or, if one’s behavior isn’t modified – it can wear on the discs in the cervical spine leading to bulging or rupturing discs that cause pain, numbness and weakness.
“Tech neck may seem like a harmless concern, but it can have serious long-term consequences, especially for today’s young people who are the first generation growing up using these handheld devices,” Dr. Weninger noted.
The National Institutes of Health (NHI) calls tech neck “an emerging 21st-century syndrome that can lead to cervical degeneration. NHI also noted that 75% of the world’s population is hunched over their handheld devices for several hours daily with their heads flexed forward. Estimates say Americans typically spend five to seven hours per day on mobile devices, and that usage level is likely to increase.
Dr. Weninger said the human head weighs between 10 to 12 pounds when positioned normally above the neck.
“Tilting our heads downward, such as when gazing at our phone to send a text, or surf social media sites, can put anywhere from 27 to 60 pounds of force on our necks, depending on the angle at which the head is held,” he explained. “That’s adding a lot of physical stress to the spine, neck, shoulders and all the muscles of our upper torso.”
The most common symptoms of tech neck include:
- Tension in the neck an upper back muscles
- Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) problems
- Numbness or weakness in the hands
- Rotator cuff tendinitis
Dr. Weninger favors finding the cause of any new ache or pain and modifying contributory behaviors rather than just treating the symptoms. He offers these suggestions to reduce the likelihood of developing tech neck:
- Hold your phone/tablet at eye level as much as possible.
- Take regular breaks from any extended time on phones, tablets, gaming devices and computers. Arch your back, roll your shoulders and do stretches to loosen up tight neck muscles.
- Limit screen time during non-work/school hours.
- Use a standing desk, when possible.
- Be aware of your sitting posture and correct bad habits. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back leaning backward slightly.
- Get up from sitting while working or studying at least once an hour.
- Practice some yoga poses regularly – e.g., downward dog, cobra, cat/cow, child’s pose and seated twist pose will relieve tension in the muscles of the upper torso.
- Get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.
- Perform resistance training and strengthening of your rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder joint.
“Most of the activities that we do with our arms is out in front of our bodies including lifting, carrying, reaching,” he said. “It is important to strengthen muscles in the upper back. This helps restore balance between the forces pulling the shoulder forward and backward.”
If your neck and shoulder pain persists, despite trying ergonomic modifications and strengthening and stretching exercises, Dr. Weninger recommends seeing a provider at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain.
“We start with conservative treatment, such as physical therapy and medications to manage pain,” he said. “Then, we can look into additional options such as injections. In severe cases, surgery may be needed. Your care team will discuss options with you to support your health needs.”
The Orthopedic Walk-in Care Clinic is open from Monday-Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at 2400 East Capital Drive, Appleton. While appointments aren’t required, patients can click on the “I’m on my way” button to let care teams know they are coming. Find more information at thedacare.org/orthopedics.
“Our mobile devices improve our ability to be informed, educated and entertained, which adds to our quality of life,” said Weninger. “As with most equipment, there’s a proper way to use them. Establishing good habits in how we hold our devices and how much time we spend on them will go along way toward making sure we are embracing their benefits.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.