Hunching over a laptop, tablet or smartphone can lead to ongoing neck pain. Here’s how the pros recommend catching some relief.
In a digital age where you use your tablet for games, your laptop for virtual meetings and your phone for emails, it’s safe to say your neck is bearing the brunt of it all.
Turns out that the pain, soreness and tension you’re feeling in your neck has a name: tech neck. Though sometimes it’s also referred to as “text neck,” the ailment is hardly limited to texting — in fact, anything that causes your neck to hunch forward (think: reading a book) can be a culprit. Still, this type of neck pain typically stems from abnormal posture as a result of using electronic devices in high frequencies and long durations.
“Tech neck refers to pain caused by poor ergonomics associated with using cellphones, laptops, and tablets,” said James Lin, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Think of your head as a ball that a seal is balancing on the tip of its nose. When it is aligned perfectly — when you’re looking straight ahead — it doesn’t take much force to keep it there. When you bend your head forward, however, the muscles in your neck have to work overtime to hold your head in position, which can ultimately cause neck pain and spasms.”
The good news? With a few simple tricks, there are ways to mitigate (and prevent) the pain associated with tech neck. Here are some expert-backed tips:
Take tech breaks.
Easier said than done (we know), but being mindful of taking frequent breaks from your electronic devices is crucial to minimizing your risk of experiencing the malady. Wear an activity tracker to keep yourself in check, set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself it’s break time or, as New Jersey-based chiropractor Blessen Abraham recommends, use that 20-minute phone call as a chance to step away from your desk and get some fresh air.
Implement chin tucks twice a day.
Chin tucks are a quick, easy way to alleviate tech neck — and something you can do while sitting at your desk.
Ronald Tolchin, medical director at Baptist Health’s Miami Neuroscience Institute’s Spine Center, said that you should sit in a tall chair and keep your chin parallel to the floor. “Without tilting your head, draw your head and chin backwards, kind of like you’re making a double chin. This should be a slow, sustained stretch. From there, you can try to actively elongate your head upward like there is a string pulling your head upward.”
Do this twice a day every day to strengthen the neck muscles and encourage good posture.
Elevate your workstation.
Hunching your head forward while on your phone, tablet or laptop causes undue stress on your muscles.
“The human neck is an amazing structure that allows you to look in all directions. However, when you bend your neck to an extreme position such as when looking all the way down, in the short term, your muscles can become tired and spasm,” Lin said.
By bringing the screen to eye level — versus lowering your eye level to your device — you can keep your neck in better alignment and prevent it from flexing forward. Try elevating your workstation with a monitor riser, laptop tray or a standing desk (even a standing desk converter can help all types of pain, including in your neck). This will not only remove pressure on your neck and back, but it’ll encourage your neck to maintain a neutral alignment, ultimately keeping tech neck at bay.
Adjust how you sit.
If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer or laptop, a simple adjustment to your sitting position can make all the difference — and if you’ve elevated your workstation, you’re already halfway there.
“Once your monitor is at eye level, it’ll [automatically] help you sit with a straight back,” said Lin.
An ergonomic chair and lumbar care can help ensure your back and neck remain in a neutral position throughout the day. You can purchase an office chair with built in support (like this one, which meets experts’ standards), or you can buy a separate lumbar support mesh to add to your current chair (this one comes highly recommend by pain specialists).
Use ice packs for initial pain, then switch to heat packs.
Tech neck can present itself as anything from a sharp, stabbing pain to a frustratingly achy sore. Either way, ice packs can offer some much-needed relief. “Ice packs applied to the back of the neck can be a useful analgesic within the first 48 to 72 hours to reduce both pain and swelling,” Tolchin said.
After that, combat any lingering pain by switching to moist heat, either by wrapping a warm towel around the neck or by using a microwavable heat pack for 10 to 15 minutes every three to four hours.
Strengthen your back muscles through exercise.
A strong back is to tech neck what strong teeth are to a cavity — the better shape it’s in, the more resilient it is to damage. In the case of tech neck, maintaining strong back muscles means your neck is better able to handle more stress. This isn’t a free pass to keep up a bad posture, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep your back muscles in tip-top condition.
Tolchin recommended working on your back through core-strengthening exercises. “The goal is to strengthen the 29 core muscles around your abdomen, spine, and pelvic area,” he said. “These muscles will act as a brace for your spine if strengthened appropriately.”
Pilates-based exercises (with or without a reformer) as well as planks — which help strengthen the extensor muscles in your back, according to Lin — are especially helpful in promoting better overall posture and spinal alignment.
Do door frame stretches to relieve tightness.
Door frame stretching can be beneficial for the muscles in the front of the shoulder girdle and chest wall, Tolchin said.
Here’s how to do it: “Raise each arm up in the doorway to about 90 degrees at the shoulders and the elbows with your palms facing forward,” Tolchin said. “Rest your palms on the door frame and slowly step forward with one foot at a time to feel the stretch in your shoulder girdles and chest wall. You should do this until tension is felt in those muscles. Hold that position for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat three times.”
Massage the affected area.
The pain associated with tech neck can radiate from the neck into the shoulders and upper back. It can also increase tension in the shoulders and cause numbness, soreness and even headaches.
A good massage can work wonders on managing this discomfort, as it “helps alleviate the soft tissue and upper level muscle tension,” Abraham said. It can also reduce inflammation in the neck muscles, and is a great way to relieve overall stiffness and stress.
Use retinol if you want to reduce any fine lines.
In the skincare world, tech neck has been dubbed the crow’s feet of the digital era. “Long periods of having our heads staring down at our electronics can cause folds in our neck, and doing this over a long period of time can cause fine lines and wrinkles,” Abraham said.
If this is something you want to address, try incorporating anti-aging powerhouse retinol into your nighttime skincare routine. Just make sure that you’re using a low concentration or a gentle type of retinol cream, as retinol can be irritating for many skin types. (Experts previously told HuffPost that this L’Oréal cream is effective to use on your neck.)
Get adequate sleep.
A good night’s sleep does more than just give you a boost of energy and increase your productivity level — it can actually help relieve your pain since your body repairs itself as it sleeps. The sweet spot to aim for is around seven to nine hours.
But what if your tech neck pain is so debilitating that you’re having trouble getting comfortable? Abraham recommends sleeping on your back with a pillow under the knees to reduce the stress on the low back.
“Also, have a pillow under the head or a small rolled towel under the neck to avoid stretching the neck,” he said.
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