Laptops, tablets, and cellphones - Oh my… neck?!

Text messages, emails, Zoom meetings and social media have us tethered to our devices like never before. From TikTok dances to cooking videos, the average US consumer spends 5 hours per day on various mobile devices and almost 3 hours per day on their phone. According to one estimate, the average person will scroll through 300 feet of content, or the height of the Statue of Liberty, in a single day.

Fatigued vision, slumped shoulders, hunched back, head bent down. We’ve all been there. Most of the time without even realizing it. That is until we try to get up and start moving.

Why does my neck hurt?

The average human head weighs 11 pounds and is held upright by 7 vertebrae and 20 different muscles. We’re usually pretty good about holding our heads upright. The problem lies with prolonged neck flexion, otherwise known as looking down. As soon as we start tilting our heads forward, the forces on our necks start increasing dramatically. At 15 degrees neck flexion our head effectively weighs 27 pounds. At 30 degrees flexion it increases to 40 pounds. And at 45 degrees a whopping 49 pounds!

At 4 hours of cell phone use a day, many of which are spent with our heads bent forward, that’s over 1,400 hours a year of carrying that increased weight.

Short-term symptoms of tech neck include

  • joint stiffness
  • muscle tightness
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • neck and upper back pain

Long term changes can include

  • reduced, straightened, or reversed cervical spine curvature
  • postural changes
  • chronic neck and back pain
  • early onset degenerative changes in the spine

Other adverse effects of constant scrolling include eye strain, brain fatigue, difficulty focusing, and a negative effect on sleep.

How can you prevent tech neck?

Tech neck is avoidable but requires some self-monitoring to help correct the behaviors. Ironically, you can use your phone to set timers (or use old-fashioned egg timers) to remind you to check your posture and take frequent screen breaks. Make sure your home office is set up in a way that supports spine health, including a properly fitted chair and desk and computer monitor set up. If you catch yourself stooping over to look at your mobile device, raise it up to eye level.

Already have chronic pain from tech neck? The chiropractic clinic at the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center can help. Call us at 401-793-7837.

Benjamin Robinson, DC

Benjamin Robinson, DC, ART

Benjamin Robinson, DC, ART, is a chiropractor with the Lifespan Physician Group at the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center. He is certified in Applied Kinesiology, Graston Technique, Kinesio Tape, Functional and Kinetic Treatment with Rehabilitation (FAKTR), and Active Release Technique, all of which help to provide a comprehensive approach to musculoskeletal conditions.