How to Avoid “Tech Neck”?

“Tech neck” or “text neck” – both of them represent forward head flexion with increasing loading on the cervical spine which leads to neck pain. “Tech neck” is getting younger and care must be taken not only for adults but also for children.

Key takeaways:
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    “Tech neck” or “text neck” means frequent forward head flexion with increasing loading on the cervical spine which leads to neck pain.
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    Not only adults are sensitive to neck pain, but also adolescents and children.
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    Neck pain can irradiate into the head, trunk, and upper limbs.
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    When the neck is flexed at 30° the weight to the cervical spine increases by 40lb, and when the head is 60° in flexion – 60lb.
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    Ergonomics and exercise programs can be good prevention from neck pain.

Prevalence of neck pain

Nowadays neck pain is a common condition, especially for office workers, compared with other occupations. Every year neck pain occurs from 42% to 63%, from which office workers have the highest neck disorders from 17% to 21%.

Neck pain is the pain from the superior nuchal line and the spinous process of the first thoracic vertebra. Sometimes the pain can irradiate into the head, trunk, and upper limbs. Females tend to have more prevalence of neck pain than men. Moreover, high-income countries have higher prevalence rates than low-income countries due to obesity, the greater number of elderly, and a sedentary lifestyle.

What is a “tech neck”?

Increasing office work and sitting time lead to the concept of “tech neck” or in other words “text neck”. Earlier, this concept was adopted only for adults, however, due to the increasing growth of technologies, “tech neck” can be adopted even for all pediatrics age.

“Tech neck” – is the frequent forward flexed position of the head while people look down at their smartphones or other handhelds. In this position, people get repetitive strain injuries to the muscle and other tissues because of the frequent forward flexion.

Other populations that are very sensitive to neck pain are children and adolescents. “Tech neck“ is getting younger because, according to the study, children and adolescents spend 5 to 7 hours daily on smartphones.

The study of 207 children and adolescents with nonspecific neck pain showed that all participants have irradiation from the neck pain to the back and shoulders. Another study showed that the location of the pain from the neck irradiate to the shoulders for 69% of participants, on the lower back – 61%, and then arms – 13%.

What leads to neck pain?

In the neutral position, the adult’s head weight is about 11lb, however, when our neck is flexed at 30° the weight to the cervical spine increases by 40lb, and when the head is 60° in flexion the weight to the cervical spine is 60lb. So, the prolonged loading on the cervical spine raises pain. Nevertheless, prolonged and frequent forward flexion is a possible cause of changes in the cervical spine, curvature, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

Other important factors which can affect the neck and rise neck pain:

  • Reduced range of motion
  • Sitting tolerance
  • Work at the computer (computer screen, keyboard position, etc.)
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Stress
  • Pathology

It seems that there is a strong link between workers’ productivity, health, satisfaction, and workstation because individuals spend a lot of time at the workplace. When an office worker has a health issue, such as neck pain, due to a non-ergonomic workplace, productivity and satisfaction with work decreases, and absenteeism increases which costs a lot of money for the country. Moreover, not only does work productivity decrease but also, activities of daily living are affected. So, can we manage the neck pain during working hours?

Prevention of neck pain

There are many tools that can help to prevent “tech neck” related disorders and pain. Many companies, which care for their employees, take care of ergonomic programs and exercises which can highly increase productivity and decrease musculoskeletal disorders.

Ergonomic programs (adjustment of the workstation)

The best position to work with a computer or text message on a smartphone is the sitting position with a straight neck and supporting forearms, even better when both thumbs are used on a smartphone. The computer must be at eye level.

Moreover, ergonomics is not only about adjustment of the workstation, it is also about other important factors such as healthy eating, alcohol and tobacco use, stress and conflict management, mental health, and lifestyle. All these factors must be evaluated and corrections of these must be implemented in the work environment.

Exercise programs

Exercise programs have to be implemented during working hours to prevent or treat neck pain. It is very important to do exercises correctly and firstly with physiotherapist care, to make sure of better outcomes of the exercise program. What are the main exercises that can be helpful for the prevention of neck pain?

  • Upper neck flexion
  • Neck extension
  • Neck rotation
  • Reverse flies
  • Front and side arm raises to 90°

Treatment of neck pain

The most painful areas of the workers who mostly work with a computer are the upper back, neck, shoulders, and lower back. If the neck pain episodically lasts for few months it is necessary to pay attention to:

  • Sitting hours
  • Postural behaviours
  • Working hours
  • Working time at computer
  • Working hours prior to a break
  • Desk setup
  • Job strain

Above mentioned factors are the physical risk factors and modification of these could have very good outcomes in the future. Moreover, additional self-care, such as regular exercises, education, psychological treatment, and pharmacological interventions can relieve or eliminate neck pain. Furthermore, it is very important to increase the endurance of cervical neck flexors.

How to increase endurance of cervical neck flexors?

There is a simple exercise which could be done by everyone. Lay on the couch in a supine position, arms by your side. Flex the upper cervical spine, like you will say ‘yes’ with your head, move the head away from the couch about 1 in and maintain this position. Keep this position as long as you can without a change of position. This exercise is not only a treatment but also, good prevention against neck pain which can make deep neck flexors.

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