What Is Tech Neck?

Written by Goodpath Medical Team
2021-11-12

“Tech neck” describes the pain experienced when the neck, that is the cervical spine, is tilted too long in the wrong position when using computers or other technology. “Text neck,” is similar and refers to neck pain specifically from texting.  

Whether it’s laptops, desktops, phones, or other devices, research shows that the misalignment of your head relative to your neck increases the weight that your neck bears, causing pain.

Tech Neck is a Common Problem

Studies show that between 27-48% of workers have neck problems each year. This statistic is from worldwide research involving people from all industries, including those in office settings. And, the studies were conducted years before the “work from home” phenomenon. 

With the pandemic and the dramatic increase in working from home, often with less than an optimal workspace, there is evidence that neck problems are even more common among employees, creating a problem sometimes called “tech neck”. 

Think about a typical day. You use your computer, laptop, and phone while working or to study. You might use a tablet to play a game or watch a video after work. Throughout the day, you check your mobile phone for emails and texts dozens of times.

What do all of those activities have in common? The answer is “tech neck” or “text neck.” Both phrases describe pain in the neck, often affecting the neck muscles. It is associated with the use of technology, most often from looking at a screen.

This article answers these questions:

  1. What is Tech Neck?

  2. What Should I Do About Tech Neck

  3. What are the Possible Effects of Tech Neck?

  4. When To See A Doctor

How Position Causes Pain in Your Head And Neck

Any time you overuse a part of your body or maintain an awkward position, it is likely to cause pain and tightness. With  "tech neck," you’re continually or repeatedly bending your neck forward with your head's added weight to view a device. 

You may develop further problems like muscle imbalances or irritation and inflammation of tendons in the neck area.

Studies have examined the weight of the head in various positions. An adult head is quite a heavy load, it measures about ten to twelve pounds. That’s when it’s upright with your head balanced over your cervical spine, and your chin parallel to the floor. This is a healthy, neutral posture that puts little strain on your neck.

When you tilt your head forward, it is no longer in line with your cervical spine. It increases the force on your neck - your head feels like it weighs as much as fifty or sixty pounds! A study found that the greater your neck flexion the more stress it creates on your neck. 

The study further indicated that the position overworks your cervical spine, neck, and upper back muscles - they become fatigued, sore, and stiff, leading to neck pain, as well as upper back and shoulder pain.

3 Tips for How You Can Prevent Tech Neck

Tech neck can occur both in the office and at home. In the office, you may have a “neck-healthy” workstation with the appropriate desk, chair, and computer setup. Still, you may have neck pain. Studies support stretching, resting, and fine-tuning your workspace to help prevent and relieve pain.

Work-at-home environments can be more problematic for neck and overall musculoskeletal health. For instance, using your laptop while sitting on the sofa, relaxing on your bed, or at the kitchen table forces your head forward, further increasing the risk of tech neck-related pain. Preventing and relieving neck pain may be even more necessary.

How can you avoid developing neck problems, lessen existing neck pain, or prevent it from worsening or recurring? The techniques are very similar and focus on:

  • Exercise

  • Break periods with movement

  • Ergonomics

Exercise to Strengthen your Neck

Exercise helps to improve your overall health and prevent injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When you stretch your neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles, it helps relieve pain and stiffness in the short term, which is something you can do when using technology. 

Evidence shows that regular stretching and strengthening exercises have the effect of improving mobility. They do so by boosting the flexibility and strength of your muscles, as well as the ligaments and tendons that support them.

Try this example of an exercise that stretches the neck:

  • Step 1: Place your feet flat on the floor and sit up straight.

  • Step 2: Relax your arms by your sides.

  • Step 3: Place your right hand on your head. Tilt your head toward your right arm. Use a small amount of pressure on your head to deepen the stretch.

  • Step 4: Hold for 30 seconds. 

  • Step 5: Slowly lift your head and repeat this exercise on your left side.

Try this example of a neck strengthening exercise:

  • Step 1. Sit with your shoulders back and your head and torso in an upright position.

  • Step 2: Place 2 fingers on your chin.

  • Step 3: Tuck your chin and gently pull your head back. Use your fingers to keep your chin tucked to your chest. 

  • Step 4: Hold for a few seconds. Relax.

  • Step 5: Repeat 2 to 3 sets, 10 times each.

As part of our complete musculoskeletal health programs, Goodpath provides a series of neck-specific stretching and strengthening exercises.

Break Periods Can Help You Avoid Pain

According to research, break periods are very beneficial in preventing and lessening neck and other musculoskeletal pain. They give you a chance to rest tired muscles and relieve tension in your neck, upper back, and those supporting your shoulder blades. This change in activity also allows time for you to stretch and change positions. All of these changes help to lessen the effects of maintaining a forward head posture. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends several short rest breaks (“micro-breaks” or rest “pauses”) throughout the day. Since you may need reminders to take regular breaks until it becomes a habit, consider a prominently displayed note or one of the apps available for that purpose.

Ergonomic Changes for Reducing Neck Strain

Ergonomics or efficient positioning of your work area makes it easier to do your job and at the same time lessens the stress on your body. Whether you work from home or in an office, proper ergonomics also helps prevent and lessen tech neck. 

If you have neck pain, it may be related to your work area organization, computer monitor position, or placement of other items. There are many ways to organize your workspace ergonomically.

Here’s a neck-related ergonomic change you can try:

Your monitor position may be an issue, but so may your laptop. Using your laptop causes you to look down to view the display, resulting in a forward head position and posture and an unhealthy curve of your spine. 

The solution is to use a docking station, laptop stand, or even a stack of books to elevate your laptop to eye level. By doing so, you change your neck from a flexed to a neutral position and eliminate the forward curvature of your spine. Note: You will also need to use an external keyboard. 

There are many components of ergonomics - Goodpath’s musculoskeletal health program includes workspace ergonomic recommendations.

Neck Pain At Work: Be Proactive!

  • Think about ways to improve your work environment

  • Be aware of your neck position, as well as the rest of your body

  • Set reminders to take breaks throughout the day

  • A little discomfort is a warning: it’s time for a stretch

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Untreated Tech Neck? 

There are several possible issues with tech neck, especially if it goes untreated.

Pain In Other Areas

Due to the anatomy of your neck and nearby structures, you may also have headaches, shoulder pain, and upper back pain. It is also possible to develop long-term (chronic) pain or soreness in the neck and these other areas.

Osteoarthritis And Pinched Nerves

Continued wear-and-tear on the neck may lead to damage of the discs (each disc is made up of cartilage) and bones (vertebrae) of the cervical spine (a condition called osteoarthritis). Over time, the spinal nerves may also be affected (pinched nerve).

More Complex Treatments

Tech neck may be treated with the practical approaches discussed. Treatment may also include over-the-counter medicines and products, herbal supplements, and mind-body techniques (these are all part of Goodpath’s integrative back, neck, and shoulder pain program). However, more complicated treatments like prescription medications, medical procedures, referrals to specialists, and surgery are also possibilities.

When To See Your Doctor

Most often, pain related to tech neck is not serious. However, some signs and symptoms may mean something more and may require a visit to your doctor for a diagnosis.

Patient-doctor communication is important - make sure you provide the details about your symptoms and ask about all of your concerns during your appointment.

Evidence supports seeing your doctor if you have neck pain with:

  • Severe or worsening pain or headaches

  • Continued pain after a course of conservative treatment (e.g., exercise, breaks, ergonomic changes, over-the-counter medicines, and etc.)

  • Weakness, numbness, loss of feeling, or tingling in the arms and hands

  • Pain that makes it hard to sleep

  • Existing health problems that involve the neck (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis or an injury)

Interested in getting relief for tech neck or other musculoskeletal problems? Start by completing our brief assessment.