Tech-Neck and Cyber-Slouch
Modern technology in the form of smart phones, tablets, and lap top computers have increasingly become an integral part of our activities of daily living. While in many ways, the availability of these devices has been a good thing, clinical studies have shown that their use is responsible in many people for the development of physical problems that have become known as Tech-Neck and Cyber-Slouch. An increasing number of patients are being seen in healthcare clinics with these syndromes manifested by chronic neck and upper back pain, frequently associated with shoulder and arm discomfort and even headaches.
Estimates are that the average person spends 2-4 hours a day reading and texting on their mobile devices. Typically, the device is held at chest or waist level and in order to focus on the screen, the neck must be flexed forward. The average weight of an adult head is 10-12 pounds and the strap muscles of the neck must be contracted in order to support the head. If the head is held in a neutral vertical position (ears aligned with the shoulders), the neck muscles can support this weight with little effort or stress. As the head tilts forward, the weight burden on the neck muscles increases exponentially. Studies have demonstrated that if the head is tilted forward a mere 15 degrees, the weight burden increases to almost 30 pounds. If the flexion is increased to 60 degrees, the weight burden increases to almost 60 pounds. For reference, 90 degrees of flexion would result if chin were firmly pressed on the chest wall. So, as the degree of flexion increases, gravitational pull dramatically increases the effective weight of the head and thus causes stress and strain on the supporting neck muscles and spine. Some degree of neck flexion is a common posture noted in people viewing the screen on their electronic devices and over time this results in physical problems known as Tech-Neck. Over time, Tech-Neck posture causes neck pain and headaches and can eventually lead to weakening and contraction of the neck musculature as well as deterioration and displacement of the vertebral disk of the cervical (neck) and dorsal (mid-back) spine. The disk can then herniate and compress nerves exiting from the spinal cord and traveling to the arms (pinched nerve). This nerve impingement results in pain, numbness, and tingling of the arms and hands.
Cyber-Slouch is another posture issue associated with Tech-Neck. As the time and frequency of use of the electronic device increases, the mid-back tends to slouch and the shoulders rotate forward. This mal-alignment causes more diffuse spinal pain as well as shoulder discomfort.
There are simple strategies to treat and prevent both of these maladies. First, an effort should be made to hold your device near eye level with your gaze straight ahead and work on maintaining an upright, well-aligned spine with the neck positioned vertically over the back, not leaning forward. Maintaining this alignment is more easily attained with toned abdominal musculature and strengthening of all other core muscles.
It is helpful to take frequent breaks from using a device and move around and stretch. Simple beneficial stretching exercises include the following: a) Chin Tuck – Sit up straight and gently tuck your chin toward your chest and hold this position for about 10 seconds. After returning your head to a neutral position repeat the movement 10 times. b) Head Rotation – Rotate the chin toward the right shoulder and hold the position for 15-20 seconds. Then rotate toward the left shoulder, again holding the position for 15-20 seconds. Perform 3-5 reps to each side. c) Side tilt – With your head in the neutral position, tilt your head side to side as if touching your ear to your shoulder. Perform 3-5 reps to each side. d) Slow- No’s – Turn the head from side to side as if saying ‘No’. Say “No” 15-20 times. e) Back/Shoulder Stretch – Interlock your hands behind your neck, then open your elbows, gently rotating them so that they point out to the side of your body. Perform 15-20 reps. F) Shoulder Shrugs – Raise your shoulders upward toward your ears and hold the position 3-5 seconds, return to a relaxed position and repeat 20 times.
Using technological devices will continue to be a large part of our lives. Being aware of the issues associated with Tech-Neck and Cyber-Slouch and pursuing preventive measures can deter physical problems when using these devices. For some of us, however, using the technology may continue to be “a pain in the neck”.
Dr.Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers (CQHP), a concierge internal medicine practice, located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106, Greensboro, Ga 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3695. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com