If you have a smartphone, you probably have 'tech neck.' Here's how to prevent it.
The rapid rise in technology has provided us with modern discoveries, rekindled connections and new opportunities to collaborate and create. But has our country's increased technology use also contributed to a rise in neck and back injuries? Dr. Mark Mikhael, Orthopaedic Surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute and the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, explains 'tech neck,' discusses the core issues associated with neck and back pain and how to alleviate bone and joint stresses at home and in the office.
What is 'tech neck'?
Tech neck refers to the upper back, shoulder and neck pain people feel after extended periods of looking down at handheld devices. We are all guilty of being absorbed by our phone, iPad or laptop for extended periods of time, but too much of this forward flexed position can lead to muscle strains and fatigue in the back of the neck. Prolonged stresses could lead to spinal disc injuries and nerve irritations. It's important to address this pain early and adjust posture and habits accordingly, before the pain extends to shoulders, arms and fingers.
It's important to maintain strong posture and vary your positioning throughout the day. Set a time limit when you're sitting in flexed positions for prolonged periods. For every 15-20 minutes of looking down at a handheld device, take a three- to five-minute break to alleviate tension in the back and neck. If you sit at a desk all day, make sure you keep your device at eye level, practice good posture and take periodic breaks -- stand, walk and stretch. If you're on the phone a lot, use a headset to avoid cramming the phone at an uncomfortable angle in your shoulder. Use a rolling suitcase to carry files rather than a shoulder bag.
If your job requires physical labor, always use proper lifting techniques that include lifting with your legs, tightening the core and avoid a twisting motion.
Primary risk factors for back pain
While some people are more prone to arthritic and degenerative changes due to genetics, age and lifestyle, the continued physical strains put on the body can all contribute to back pain. Although neck and back pain derive from any number of physical and orthopedic related issues, small preventive steps throughout the day can lessen the pain you experience. This includes typical isometric strengthening exercises. It is ideal to consult a physical therapist to develop an exercise program -- for at home therapy, www.OrthoInfo.org publishes basic physical therapy exercises to strengthen the neck and lower back.
What can happen if you don't treat it?
Long-term implications of back pain typically result from poor posture habits. This excess stress can cause arthritic changes, the encroachment of nerves and can lead to arm and leg pain. Untreated neck or back pain can manifest itself in different ways, such as a tingling sensation in the arms, hands, hips and legs. If the pain goes too far, there can be a more serious impact to your life and overall health, including further medical problems and even surgery.
Standing desk vs. office desk chair
Contrary to popular belief, a standing desk won't solve all your problems. While it isn't healthy to remain seated in a chair all day, you should not be standing all day either. Alternating your posture is key. Set your phone or watch alarm to remind you to shift position, and take a stroll around the office or outside to stretch your muscles and relieve built up tension. When sitting, keep your computer monitor at eye level and adjust your seat so your feet are flat and thighs are parallel to the ground.