Beat Tech Neck & Cervical Kyphosis
Tech Neck. The modern epidemic that is plaguing the world with cervical neck pain, shoulder discomfort, abnormal curvature, and chronic headaches. These days, we spend hours, upon hours, upon hours of our time on computers, tablets, and smartphones. And, while in the throes of the latest Facebook post, work email, or e-book, we crane our necks into an exaggerated, forward curve … without even realizing that we’re doing it. Modern clinicians have coined the catchy term “tech neck” to describe this all-too-common predicament. But, in actuality… the hunched-over thoracic curve and host of troubling symptoms that arise because of tech neck feel decidedly less hip and trendy.
But, what is tech neck or cervical kyphosis exactly? And, how does it affect the neck? To better understand it all, let’s take a closer look at your cervical spine.
The Cervical Spine
The cervical spine is just a fancy name for the neck. For all that it does, however, it’s arguable that your neck deserves a fancy name. Composed of 7 small vertebrae, the neck is the most flexible and movable portion of the spine. It allows the head to turn from side to side, up and down, and around in those glorious feeling 360-degree neck rolls. (Although be careful when rolling the head toward the back of that 360-degree circle!)
Moreover, the cervical spine is designed with natural lordotic curvature, meaning the spine bends gently inward at the neck. This design helps to balance out the kyphotic, or backward curve of the thoracic spine, and therefore balances the weight of the head evenly.
What is Tech Neck?
Because the cervical spine is so flexible, it is also more susceptible to damage and pain. Tech neck is just one of many sources for this damage. Also called cervical kyphosis, tech neck is an often-painful condition, resulting in the hunchback slouch that many of us employ while using our electronic devices or reading.
Symptoms of Tech Neck include:
Neck Pain: Localized pain and aching can be felt along back of the neck or at the base of the head
Stiffness: Stress and inflammation of neck muscles and connective tissues can lead to tissues hardening or stiffening and limited rotation in the neck
Shoulder Pain & Tension: Pain and tension in the neck can quickly extend to the supportive muscles and connective tissues of the shoulder
Numbness or Tingling in Arms or Hand: When tech neck becomes especially extreme, nerves in the cervical spine can become compressed and even pinched. This can lead to localized neck pain, but can also cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms and hands.
Abnormal Curvature: If left unchecked, the forward bending to look at our screens can become permanent. An irreversible hunch-backed appearance can develop.
Technology is not all bad, however. With more and more people working remotely, smartphones and laptops provide freedom from the typical 9 to 5 while also maintaining connection to the office and clients. Fortunately for remote or office workers, tech neck is not inevitable. There are many ergonomic hacks to combat office-related neck pain.
Tips for Beating Tech Neck at the Office
Establish Time Limits and Reminders: Whenever possible, limiting the amount of time spent on various devices can help. This includes computers, tablets, and phones. Taking 5-minute breaks, especially at work, can help immensely when attempting to avoid neck pain. If needed, set an alarm as a reminder to step away. Use this time to do some stretches to counteract the tech slouch.
The Ergonomics of Tech: The ergonomics, or design, of your work environment and devices can greatly affect the health of your spine. Advances in office furniture design and specialized holders for devices are improving the health of millions of spines. Ergonomic tips to avoid tech neck include:
- Try to keep the device as close to eye-level as possible. You can accomplish this by raising or lowering your chair or desk. Better yet, you can purchase a movable stand for your devices that can be adjusted to any height depending on your height head.
- 90-Degree Angles Abound! One of the keys to a happy spine can be found in 90-degree angles. Your desk and devices should be arranged in a way that allows for your knees, hips, and elbow to all bend at 90-degree angles. Feet should be flat on the floor and elbows at your side.
- Invest in a chair with a headrest and lumbar support. A headrest can be a great way to monitor your slouch. If you stay cognizant of your head staying flush against the head rest, you will be able to maintain a healthy posture. It may take some getting used to, but it’s a helpful trick.
Tips for Beating Tech Neck Outside of Work
Stretches and Exercise: There are a number of exercises and stretches that one can do to prevent the development of cervical kyphosis. Shoulder rolls, back bends, and neck extensions can all get the job done. For more intensive work, try attending a yoga class or building upper body strength to promote healthy posture.
Seek Out the Help of a Professional: And finally, a visit to a chiropractor or massage therapist can help immensely when dealing with the side effects of tech neck. However, when all else fails, it may be time to visit your local orthopedist. A board-certified orthopedic surgeon can help you develop a treatment plan that doesn’t necessarily involve surgery to fix your tech neck. In fact, orthopedic surgeons use an arsenal of tools—including epidural injections for neck pain—to eliminate tech neck discomfort.