Technology and neck pain. The “Text Neck” epidemic

In today’s modern world we are lucky enough to have information at our fingertips.  We are surrounded by technology: computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets.  For most of us, we own more than one of these devices.  However does all this convenience have a down side?

As clinicians we are seeing more people presenting to clinics with conditions caused by slouched postures.  In the past, these conditions were mainly causes by prolonged sitting in front of a computer at work.  Today we are now spending just as much time on our tablets and smartphones in our recreation time as we are in front of our computers at work.  As a result we are spending more time with a forward head posture.  It has become so prevalent that it has been colloquially termed “text neck”.

Spending prolonged time with a forward head posture predisposes you developing neck pain, upper back pain and headaches. The reason behind this is simple mechanics.  Imagine carrying a heavy box in two ways: firstly with the box close to your body and secondly with it away from your body at arms length.  In both cases the box is the same weight, but when it is displaced forward at arms length it is far more difficult to hold.  A human head weighs on average 5-6kg and is supported by your neck, shoulders and upper back.  If your head is displaced forward, the pressure on your neck, shoulders and upper back multiplies in the same way as carrying a heavy box at arms length.

There are simple ways to reduce this problem:

1.     Try to keep your chin in when looking at your device or computer.  Protruding your head places more pressure on your spine

2.     Look down with your eyes rather than your head

3.     Lift your device closer to eye level when in use


The other option is to avoid using devices at all!  But we all know that is not going to happen.  Instead, use a principle known as pacing.  Pacing is commonly used to educate our patients in our Pain Management Program and involves breaking up a task into smaller time intervals.  It sounds like common sense but if you take a break from your phone or tablet every 10-15 minutes you are less likely to cause yourself unnecessary pain.

Time out physiotherapy

If you are experiencing neck, shoulder or upper back pain and you believe it is related to your posture, speak to a physiotherapist for advice strategies or exercises to manage this.

Daniel Di Mauro is a McKenzie credentialed Physiotherapist with an interest in back and spinal pain. He works as a Physiotherapist at Advance Healthcare St Albans clinic in Western Melbourne.