Smartphones have become indispensable, and judging by how much we’re hunched over ours, we’d be lost without them, even during our COVID-19 quarantines. But all that hunching can strain your back and neck.
The condition is called “tech neck” or “text neck,” and you might be surprised to learn that you’ve already experienced the symptoms, which can include muscle pain and headaches.
“It’s a repetitive stress injury to muscles in the neck caused by poor posture while using computers or handheld digital devices,” says Nimesh Patel, MD, FAANS, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. “When people spend long periods of time with their head and neck extended too far forward over the body, it strains the neck muscles.”
A 60-pound pain in the neck
Studies suggest that looking down at our phones can be equivalent to placing a 60-pound weight on our necks.
When the ears are directly above the shoulders — in a neutral or “zero degree” position — the neck supports a head weight of 10–12 pounds.
Tilt your head just 15 degrees forward, and that burden grows to 27 pounds. At 45 degrees, it increases to 49 pounds, and at a 60-degree angle, the neck is supporting 60 pounds.
Dr. Patel says when you consider the average person spends over four hours a day on mobile devices, it’s no wonder tech neck has become such a problem. And by some estimates, screen time has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many to stay home.
Treating tech neck
Dr. Patel encourages his patients to exercise more to make muscles stronger and less prone to injury. Incorporate stretches and exercises that will increase the neck’s strength and flexibility.
It’s also crucial to improve your postural habits when using digital devices by:
- Holding your mobile device closer to eye level.
- Adjusting your chair and desk to put your computer screen at eye level.
- Taking frequent breaks from your screens.