How to alleviate neck strain while using a computer and tech devices

When it comes to using tech devices, many people are concerned about eye strain, and while that can be an issue, neck pain also tops the list for tech-related injuries. As the usage of smartphones and tablets increases — in 2018, about 2.7 billion people worldwide used smartphones and 1.2 billion had tablets — more people are regularly looking down at their devices, and even those “quick checks” can add up to hours a day spent in that position. As work demands more connectivity to technology, it’s important to note how everyday activities such as typing on the computer or texting can impact our physical mobility.

“Sometimes called ‘text neck’ or ‘tech neck,’ the problem involves a hunched-over posture with head dropped down and forward, which can cause both neck pain and headaches,” according to Kevin Fitzpatrick, MD, a board-certified physiatrist who works in physical medicine and rehabilitation with the Inova Neuroscience and Spine Institute and Inova Spine Program.

“Constantly looking down in this specific way puts a great deal of force on the back of the neck,” Dr. Fitzpatrick, says, adding, “this is technically an overuse injury, just as you’d find with any type of repetitive motion that uses the same muscles over and over. ”

Take Away the Strain
Whether you’re crunched down at your desk or in a hunched position on the couch at home, try putting a few of these tactics into play:

  • Put limits on your screen time. This will not only help your neck and shoulders, but also reduce eye strain.
  • Hold your device in front of you. You might feel like you’re always taking a selfie this way but changing your posture can give your neck a rest.
  • Get up and move. Take regular “movement breaks” throughout the day, by walking away from your computer, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Look up. As a counter-stretch, let your shoulders relax, sit up tall in a chair, and gently look upward at the ceiling or sky. You can also tilt your head to one side for 15 seconds, and then the other side for 15 seconds.

Stretching and Strengthening Exercises
In addition to regular breaks, your “text neck” can be alleviated by exercises that improve your posture overall. As a bonus, these can help your balance and stability as well, Dr. Fitzpatrick says. Try these :

  • Plank – In a modified push-up position, start on your forearms with your toes grounded into the floor. Make sure your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart and your palms are flat. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Stability Ball Pike – Standing up straight behind the stability ball, roll out onto the stability ball to your shins with your hands flat on the floor underneath your shoulders. At your own pace, use your core and legs to bring your hips up. Make sure to use your toes and not the balls of your feet to remain stable. Keep your chin tucked to avoid neck strain and hold for 30 seconds, then roll back into a plank position.
  • Stability Ball Back Extension – Lying face down on the stability ball, place your hands over your head and make sure your toes are planted on a flat surface. Roll your body up slowly until your body is in a straight line. Hold the position for two seconds and roll back down to complete the exercise.
  • Glute Bridge – Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor at hip-width distance apart. Lift your hips to the ceiling as far as you can, bringing your back up off the ground and hold.
  • Locust Pose – Laying on your stomach with your face on your mat, place your arms at your sides with your palms facing up. Slowly, lift your chest, legs, head, and arms in one swift motion off the ground, activating your core and pointing your toes.

Practice Good Posture

In addition to taking breaks and doing stretches, your neck and spine will benefit from maintaining good posture — but that doesn’t mean the “chest out” correction you see when people stand at attention. Instead, Kevin Fitzpatrick, MD says, “Focus on creating alignment from your feet to your head:”

  • Keep your weight on the balls of your feet
  • Position your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your knees slightly
  • Let your arms hang down the sides of your body
  • Engage your abs gently (don’t suck in your gut, that’s hard on your back muscles — instead, just “activate your core” as if you’re wearing a tight vest)
  • Focus on bringing your shoulder blades closer together and pulled slightly downward, without feeling strained
  • Keep your chin level when you look straight ahead, and pulled slightly inward, so your ears line up with your shoulders.

As always, Dr. Fitzpatrick suggests, “Check with your physician to ensure the exercises are safe for you,” he adds, “If you’ve been implementing regular stretches and breaks and still experience neck pain — particularly if it’s getting worse — it’s a good idea to see your doctor, since you might benefit from physical therapy or other treatment.

Fortunately, you don’t need to ditch your devices to save your neck. With these simple strategies, you can prevent neck strain, and help alleviate pain if it’s already an issue.

If you have chronic back or neck pain or have suffered a spinal injury, learn more about an array of treatment options available at the Inova Spine Program in the Inova Neuroscience and Spine Institute, which is a team of interdisciplinary specialists including physiatrists, therapists and rehabilitation specialists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, neuroradiologists and musculoskeletal radiologists who help to manage neck and back pain and find the best treatment option for you, or call 703-776-4700 to schedule an appointment.

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