Technology has become a staple in modern society. According to Pew Research Center, over half of teens today have access to a tablet, and 87% have a desktop computer or a laptop. Fifty-six percent used their mobile phones several times a day and twenty-four percent used their phones constantly. Ninety-five percent of Americans now own a cell phone.
“With the advent of technology, particularly handheld technology, people spend a lot more of their day with their head and neck bent forward to look at their phone or tablet,” says Alissa Sanchez, a local physical therapist. As she explains, with every inch you lean forward to look at a piece of technology held around chest level or below, the more the weight of your head will put stress on your spine. This can lead to a lot of unwanted effects such as pain, strain, discomfort, and actual physical damage to your body. This is called tech neck, and pretty much every single person who uses a mobile phone has it.
Tech neck is defined as the posture and position of your neck when you lean forward to look at a piece of technology (a phone, a tablet, a computer, etc.) usually held far below eye level. The head will be pulled forward so that the chin is jutting out, which changes the body’s center of gravity. Despite this problem not only being limited to the aftereffects of technology, this was dubbed “tech neck” due to its obvious relation to technology. Many people experience it, but it is found more commonly among youth who use technology frequently (basically all teenagers). Many kids grow up with this technology, but practice the wrong posture while using it, and as a result can develop tech neck. The real problem is that it is being found in younger and younger children as technology becomes a more prominent facet of adolescence.
In fact, most people who use any type of technology have tech neck. People anywhere from their 20s to their 50s suffer from it after growing up with technology or using it for work. But the rise of smartphone use in particular is a main contributor to this problem. The average smartphone user spends two to four hours hunched over their phone per day; approximately 700 to 1400 hours per year.
Putting it simply, the average adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. With a straight posture, there is relatively no stress on the neck. But while using technology or reading, many people will lean forward, hunch their backs, and round their shoulders. As Kit Holsten, TL’s Athletic Trainer explains, “This [tech neck] allows the anterior (front) muscles of the body, for example, the pecs, to become tight and immobile, making it harder and harder to allow for good posture.” For every inch the head is tilted, there is an extra 10 pounds of pressure on the neck. This puts a lot of stress on the spine, which can only take so much force. And with technology being so important in modern society, many people have this neck problem because of looking down at their phone, computer, or tablet. This poor posture can lead to a lot of problems.
As Alissa Sanchez explains, the short-term effects of tech neck feel merely as if you slept on it weirdly. This means a sore, stiff feeling in the neck, where the neck meets the shoulders, or where the neck meets the head. People usually shake this off, but it can also lead to headaches and shoulder injuries.
If this posture persists without correction, there can be long-term effects, which are much worse. Your neck may feel increasingly painful, even when you’re not looking down at technology. This can eventually lead to damage in your spine, vertebrae, and nerves. Some injuries seen as a result of long-term tech neck “are but not limited to, chronic neck pain and dysfunctions (including disc injuries in the neck), chronic headaches and migraines, arthritis in the neck, nerve injuries, and significant shoulder dysfunction (which can lead to surgery),” says Holsten. This is something that contributes to long-term back and neck pain when you’re older.
Tech neck can also affect other aspects of life, both academic and athletic. Pain and headaches, both common effects of tech neck, are distracting. They can take attention away from important academic projects, such as tests. The pain can also make playing sports more difficult. It can even change the way you play your sport, or your form. “Without a good foundation, the body cannot function well at high levels, and part of that foundation is a good strong core which is everything stabilizing the spine and head,” says Holsten. “Bad posture can affect many things in your life including, but not limited to: self confidence, overall self body awareness, and lifelong goals.”
There are a few ways to stop or reduce your tech neck. To start with, avoiding technology is ideal, but unfortunately unrealistic. You can try a better posture while using technology; this includes not resting your chin on your hands when sitting, keeping the spine long, and your chin tucked slightly in. You can also take frequent breaks from technology and stretch your neck so it does not become stiff or overused. “And make sure that when you work out and exercise that you do it with good posture,” reminds Holsten. “The body remembers the posture that it trains in.”