If you spend hours a day scrolling on your smartphone or tablet, you might get "tech neck."
“Humans are upright creatures, and our bodies aren't designed to look down for long periods of time, which puts extra pressure on the cervical spine,” said Dr. Kavita Trivedi, associate medical director of the Spine Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Americans spend about five hours a day on their cellphones and more on laptops and computers, Trivedi noted in a university news release.
As a result, people can experience muscle stiffness, joint inflammation, pinched nerves, arthritis, and even bone spurs or herniated discs.
A typical adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. Bending it at a 45-degree angle increases the force on the neck to nearly 50 pounds.
“With repetition, that force can strain or injure the facet joints that connect our vertebrae," Trivedi said. "When that happens, the surrounding muscles naturally tighten up to protect nearby nerves, which leads to inflammation, pain and knots in your neck — what is often referred to as tech neck.”
Nonsurgical treatments for these injuries include medication and physical therapy, trigger point and steroid injections, nerve blocks and minimally invasive techniques such as radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure where radiofrequency waves are delivered to certain nerves, with the goal of interrupting pain signals to the brain.
Surgery may be the best option for some, however, Trivedi added.
“The good news is that most patients with tech neck don't require surgery, and we have a wide range of therapies that can be very effective," Trivedi said. "There's no need to live with pain if it can be treated.”
Protect yourself from future neck pain by holding your phone at eye level as much as possible, she advised.
“Our phones and tablets are valuable tools, and there's no need to give them up,” Trivedi said. “The solution is to learn how to prevent tech neck while using these devices, and if pain develops, see a specialist who can help.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has tips on preventing back pain.
SOURCE: UT Southwestern, news release, Feb. 14, 2023