How to cope when your phone becomes a pain in the neck
Endless Zoom meetings, Netflix binges and hours spent scrolling through social media…2020 has meant that we are more reliant than ever on our phones and laptops for our interaction with the outside world. Sadly, this increased screen time has led to a surge of adults, teenagers and younger children struggling with neck pain, headaches and upper back issues.
The term ‘Tech Neck’ (aka ‘Text Neck’) was first coined in 2014 as a way to describe repetitive strain injury and neck pain resulting from excessive watching, scrolling or texting. The problem lies with holding phones and tablets below eye level. This means we’re often looking down for sustained periods, causing stress and strain in our necks and spines. Fast forward a few years and our ever-increasing usage of screens has only compounded this problem.
Increasing numbers of teenagers are visiting GP’s, physiotherapists and Orthopaedic Surgeons, complaining of upper back and neck pain, usually after spending hours studying or texting whilst sitting in poor posture. A study in 2018 showed that 55% of Gen Z’s are on their phones for over 5 hours a day, with 12% using screens for an alarming 15 hours a day. And millennials and boomers aren’t that far behind.
The effects of tech neck are real. A human head weighs between 4.5-5kg. As your head bends forward, the amount of strain going through your neck muscles, ligaments and tendons increases. Over time, the cumulative effect of this increased strain can lead to headaches, back pain and migraines.
Treating Tech Neck typically involves a two-pronged approach:
Realistically, you’re unlikely to ditch your phone after reading this article. However, there are a few useful tips and strategies that adults and kids can use to reduce pain and pressure through the spine whilst we’re bound to our screens.
Simple but effective. Whether you’re sitting or standing, lifting your phone closer to eye-level will reduce the tilt in your neck. If you want a quick check – download one of these free apps that I’m completely obsessed with – Neck Guard on iOS or Text Neck Forward Head Posture Correction on Android.
These apps measure the angle of forward bend in your neck and will send you notifications to hold your phone higher when they’re not happy with your neck position.
These reminders throughout the day can be a great way to break up hours of harmful posture. Even if it’s just for a couple of minutes until you slump back into your old habits, over time these reminders can help you to improve posture and offload your spine.
Practising good posture can definitely help to mitigate the effects of Tech Neck. Chances are you’re reading this on your phone. Quick posture check:
Make sure your ears are over your shoulders and your shoulders are over your hips.
For more posture tips and tricks, click here to read our article about the Power of Posture.
2020 – the year of working from home. You may well have had a full ergonomic assessment when you first started at your office. However, the pictures above may look all too familiar. a lot of us are having to make do as best we can at home. Lot’s of teenagers and adults are having to make do with working from the floor on coffee tables or even from bed. This is neither conducive to productive work, nor does it help with sleeping habits or neck pain. However, if you or your child have no alternative, try to make things as comfortable as possible.
Ensure there are plenty of pillows behind you to support the lumbar spine. Placing a pillow under your knees will also ease muscle strain through the legs. If you’re regularly using a laptop in bed, getting hold of a breakfast tray table will also make things more comfortable and improve your alignment.
If you have a more conventional WFH set-up, try and mimic an office set-up as best you can. Wherever possible, opt to use a larger screen or laptop, rather than a phone or tablet, especially if you’re in for a long screentime session. In a perfect world, your feet should be on the floor, knees at 90 degrees, back supported and the top of your screen should be at eye-level. If you’re working or studying, or even spending hours on Zoom, consider the position you’ll be in before starting.
The most important thing is to avoid looking downwards at your screen. Try and lift your screen up as best you can – I’m writing this from my kitchen table with my laptop raised up on a puzzle box (and the delicious smell of freshly baked banana bread wafting past)…could this *be* any more 2020?!
Studies have shown that posture tends to be worse when we’re texting – even more so than when gaming or watching videos on our phones. Try to remind yourself to take regular breaks from texting and opt to use speakerphone or earphones when chatting to avoid hunching your shoulder to your ear. There are great apps such as Freedom and Moment (both available via iOS and Android), which will allow you to set daily limits of screen usage per app, to help you monitor and if necessary reduce your screen time.
As a minimum, you should aim to get up from your sitting position for a couple of minutes at least once an hour. Stretch your legs, go for a quick walk (there’s an ongoing debate in my house whether a walk to the fridge counts!) to give your muscles a break.
Taking conscious breaks from screen time can make a big difference. Set a reminder on your phone to help you remember to move frequently. Creating these breaks will help to rest your muscles and reduce your neck strain.
No judgement, please!!! Holding your head up and your phone out straight will not only produce a flattering photo but will actually take the pressure off your neck. Whether you’re sitting or standing, lifting your phone closer to eye-level will reduce the amount that you have to bend your neck forward…(and will improve your insta pics!)
It’s no secret that prevention is better than cure. Regularly stretching your neck, back and shoulders will help reduce stiffness, improve flexibility and offset some of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
Here’s a video of some simple stretches that you can do regularly throughout the day to give your neck and upper shoulders a good stretch.
Of course, regularly undertaking any exercise including cycling, running and HIIT workouts will improve core strength and spinal alignment. However, you can easily undo all of that Ciara or Joe Wicks work with a few hours scrolling on your phone.
Medical professionals often recommend Pilates and yoga to patients suffering from back and neck pain. These are amazing mind-body exercises and can help with improving breathing control, posture and help reduce anxiety. For more information about the amazing benefits of yoga and Pilates, please read our recent blog here.
If you’re working out and struggling with neck pain, I would advise you to avoid weights and go for more gentle, stretching-based exercise until the pain eases up. Even then, if you’re prone to neck pain, be very careful with using heavy weights, especially overhead, and always be conscious of form whilst using weights.
Tech Neck is very common and is often blamed on poor posture and excessive screen time. However, there are of course times that the source of neck pain is something more serious. If pain persists despite making postural and habitual changes, there may be other aspects to consider. When neck pain is accompanied by severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, pins and needles or tingling into the hands or fingers, you should always speak to a healthcare professional, as this could indicate a more serious underlying condition. If you are concerned, please speak to a physiotherapist or your GP.
To see how we can help you, please contact us.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you or someone in your family, please contact us.
NL Physio Ltd
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+44 7709 157 057