We live in a constantly connected world. We are already witnessing many youngsters in their early 20s complaining about stiff neck and bad backs that are normally associated with people in their late 40s and 50s – thanks to smart phones, tablets and other personal electronic gadgets that these millennials are so badly addicted with. Reports and statistics show, while adults from older generations check their smartphones on an average of 5 times a day, youngsters tend to browse around 110-115 times per day - that’s roughly 1/3rd of the day goes spending in electronic gadget. Similarly, nearly 60 % of the adults spend 5 or more hours per day in front of their computers as compared to the 40% of youngsters who spend 9-11 hours in front of their devices.
The term text neck or tech neck or turtle neck syndrome is being used to describe tightness of neck muscles, which is due to prolonged forward head position while using (staring at) electronic devices such as mobile phone, laptops and computer monitors resulting in undue stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck. This leads to early degeneration of disc material which is the precursor of cervical spondylosis if left untreated.
At 0 degrees of head tilt (neutral neck), your head weighs about 5Kg. As you can imagine, the further forward the head tilts and the neck bends, the heavier the head becomes. By 30 degrees of head tilt, your head weighs 18Kg. By the time your head is at 60 degrees, it weighs about 27Kg. It’s just like holding a small child on your shoulders
People are unaware of the fact that sitting for long periods of time causes up to twice as much pressure on discs on the spine as to standing as well as weakens the gluteal and thigh muscles which exaggerates the problem. One of the major reasons for such problems are wrong posture of the spine due hunching and slouching that most of us have while using our devices which in turn increases the risk of neck and back pain.
Other symptoms of Tech Neck are cause shoulder pain, tingling or numbness in the fingers, headaches and increased thoracic kyphosis(rounded upper back).
Tips To Minimise The Symptoms Of Tech Neck
Pay Attention to Posture
Sit up straight! Many people are unaware that staying in the same position for longer period can cause unnecessary strain on the back.
Keep Devices at Eye Level
Adjust your computer screen If you are regularly using a computer, make sure you’re sitting properly with your screen level with your eyebrows and your chair tipped slightly forward so that your knees are slightly higher than your hips.
Use a Headrest
If your chair doesn’t have a headrest, it’s worth switching to one that does. Make sure the back of your head stays in contact with the headrest while you sit. This will ensure you aren’t looking down with your neck flexed forward
Take Breaks Often
It’s important to take regular breaks from your screen to relieve the built-up tension in your lower back. Don’t sit for longer than 45 minutes at a time at your desk and try to look up from your device often. Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a 20-second break by focusing on something at least 20 feet away.
Stretch Your Neck
Neck Stretch #1: Chin Tuck
Move your chin towards your chest, holding for 5 seconds as you feel a comfortable stretch from your neck to the base of your skull.
Repeat 10 times.
Neck Stretch #2: Side Bending
Tilt your head to the right, bringing your ear close to the shoulder. You may use your hand to pull your head farther into the stretch. Hold 20 seconds.
Bring your head back to the center, and then tilt it to the left, again holding 20 seconds.
Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Neck Stretch #3: Side-to-Side Head Rotation
Rotate your chin towards your right shoulder. Hold 20 seconds. You may use your hand to push your head farther into the stretch.
Bring your head back to the center, and then rotate it to the left, again holding 20 seconds.
Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
By Dr. K. Naresh Kumar M.S.(Ortho) is a Consultant Orthopedic and Limb Reconstruction Surgeon, Parvathy Hospital, Chennai