How to Prevent & Correct Tech Neck

Written by Beth Holloway, RN, M. Ed
2021-02-17

“Tech neck” is a new term with the pandemic, but the condition itself has been around for years. Tech neck describes the condition of pain experienced when the neck is tilted too long in the wrong position typically from looking at a phone or computer. This misalignment of the head relative to the neck increases the weight that the neck bears which over time can convert to pain.

This article breaks down:

  1. What is Tech Neck

  2. What To Do About Tech Neck

  3. Long-Term Effects

  4. When To See A Doctor

What Is Tech Neck

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

While using these devices, it is very likely that you bend your neck and feel neck pain. This is popularly known as “tech neck.”

Any time you overuse a part of your body or maintain an awkward position, it is likely that pain will occur. When you have "tech neck," you’re continually bending your neck forward with your head's added weight. The position overworks your neck and upper back muscles - they become fatigued, sore, and stiff, leading to neck pain, as well as upper back and shoulder pain.

Your head is quite heavy, weighing about ten to twelve pounds. That’s when it’s upright with your head balanced over your spine, and your chin is 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 spine. It increases the force on your neck, feeling like it weighs up to fifty or sixty pounds. The more time you maintain this unhealthy, flexed position, the greater the stress on your neck. 

What To Do About 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. Utilizing office equipment correctly, taking breaks, and using other measures are valuable in these contexts.

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 further increases the risk of tech neck-related pain. 

What can you do to prevent tech neck or relieve its symptoms? The prevention and management of tech neck are very similar with three main components: exercise, break periods, and ergonomics. 

Exercise

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

Regular stretching and strengthening exercises help to improve both the flexibility and strength of your muscles, as well as the ligaments and tendons that support them.

As part of our musculoskeletal health program, Goodpath provides neck-specific stretching and strengthening exercises. 

Try this example of a neck stretching exercise

  • 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 to the right. Use a little bit of pressure from your hand 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.

Additionally, try this example of a neck strengthening exercise

  • Step 1. Sit with your shoulders back and your head 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. 

  • 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 neck-specific stretching and strengthening exercises.

Break Periods

You probably take rest breaks during the workday or at other times you use technology for long periods. You may not even think about it. 

Break periods are very beneficial in preventing and lessening neck and other musculoskeletal pain. They give you a chance to rest tired muscles in your neck and upper back. They also allow 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, you might consider using one of the apps available for that purpose. 

Ergonomic Changes 

Ergonomic or efficient positioning of your work area makes it easier to do your job. It also makes you more comfortable and benefits your whole body.

Whether you work from home, in an office, or both settings, proper ergonomics helps prevent and lessen tech neck. 

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

If you have neck pain, it may be related to your work area organization, computer monitor position, or placement of documents or other items. There are simple tips for how to organize your work space ergonomically.

You can also try this example of a neck-related ergonomic change

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

The solution is to use a docking station, laptop stand, or even a stack of books to elevate the laptop. Doing this changes your neck position from flexed to neutral. Note: You will also need an external keyboard. 

Long-Term Effects Of Tech Neck 

Continued wear and tear on the neck leads to changes in the cartilage and bones of the cervical spine. You may develop osteoarthritis and other spinal changes that require prescription medicines, medical procedures, or, rarely,  surgery.

When To See Your Doctor

Most often, neck problems related to tech neck aren’t serious. However, some signs and symptoms may mean something more serious. You should see your doctor if you have neck pain with:

  • Severe or worsening pain or headaches

  • Continued pain after a course of conservative treatment( i.e., exercise, breaks, ergonomic changes)

  • 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., arthritis)

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