Your neck pain may be linked to your smartphone: Find out how to prevent it

Does this sound familiar? You’ve lost track of time scrolling through your news feed, catching up with friends on social media or playing an online game. Something else catches your attention and you look up – only to realize a pain or soreness in your neck muscles.

Text neck, sometimes called “tech neck,” is a new name for an issue that’s actually been around for a while. The handheld technology we’ve come to know and love through smartphones and gaming consoles sometimes results in neck pain – caused by repetitive strain or injury to your muscles and tissues in your cervical spine.

We sat down with Jason Datta, MD, a spine surgeon and independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff, to discuss this condition and simple ways you can prevent it and keep it from slowing you down.

Q: What really causes text neck?

A: When you hold your head down in a tilted posture for long periods of time, as is common when you’re looking down at your phone, tablet or laptop, the muscles in the back of your neck have to contract to hold your head up. The more you look down, the harder your muscles have to work, which can cause them to get overly tired or sore.

Q: What are some signs I might be affected by this condition?

A: Common complaints include headaches, stiff neck, neck spasms and even pain between your shoulder blades or creaky shoulder joints. Many people don’t connect these symptoms with their technology usage at first, but if you spend a lot of time with your head tilted forward, it could easily be the cause.

Your neck pain may be linked to your smartphone: Find out how to prevent it

Q: Is tech neck that much of a health concern?

A: As your muscles contract to hold up your head, they put added pressure on your discs. This can cause a lot of problems down the road and could even lead to pinched nerves in your neck, which can result in added pain, weakness or even numbness in your arms. This could require surgery to treat, so you definitely want to avoid getting to this point.

Q: What can I do to prevent neck pain if I spend a lot of time using technology?

A: If you need to look at a screen for a long period of time, try to take regular breaks, usually every 45-60 minutes. Get up, change your posture for a few minutes and stretch your muscles. You can also raise your screen up a bit higher – try elevating your laptop or holding your phone or tablet closer to eye level so you can avoid tilting your head down. Make sure you’re sitting up properly and try a headrest to keep your head and neck in a good position. Exercise can also help ease tension in the back of your neck and build up your muscles.

Q: If I’m already experiencing tech neck, what can I do to resolve the pain?

A: A lot of the same principles above also apply. Be mindful of your posture while you’re looking at your screen and commit to stretching and taking frequent breaks to give your muscles a break. This can help you reverse the stiffness and discomfort you’re experiencing – and keep it from getting worse. You can also alternate applying heat and cold to your stiff neck and use anti-inflammatory pain relievers for a few days to relieve pain. Don’t expect your symptoms to disappear overnight, but with time and a continued awareness to how you’re sitting, you should see improvements in a month or two. Yoga is a great exercise for people with neck pain and stiffness from technology use.

Need more support?

If these tips don’t help, you don’t have to just live with the pain. Come see us, and we’ll develop a treatment plan designed specifically with you in mind.

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