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The Dangers of Tech Neck

For some people, technology is a literal pain in the neck. Forget about the learning curves that often accompany new and updated devices, the posture required to use tablets and smartphones isn’t a sound ergonomic position. The result? A condition known informally as tech neck or, sometimes, text neck.

Though it’s unreasonable to expect people to give up the devices that have fast become an essential part of daily life, it does present a potential health risk, particularly for people who put in long hours with their heads bent over a screen. The result may be temporary, inconvenient pain, but some people could be at risk of more serious, long-term damage.

The mechanics of neck pain

The average human head weighs about 12 pounds. The joints and muscles of the neck and shoulders have the job of supporting this weight, keeping it balanced and centered, as well as moving the neck through its range of motions.

Tech devices present a peculiar challenge, since viewing and typing occur on the same plane. If you think of using a laptop computer, your hands work on one plane, while your eyes track activity on the monitor, a different plane. While poor sitting posture can certainly create problems, these aren’t created by the laptop itself. Phones and tablets, though, require a compromise between typing and viewing planes.

Typically, your head adopts the biggest change, tipping forward about 60 degrees as you read and type. This creates a load of as much as 60 pounds on your neck, which normally keeps your head centered over your pelvis, a stress-free posture.

Long-term effects of tech neck

Virtually everyone has a sore neck from time to time, and with a day or two of rest, the problem typically passes. If you only use devices casually, this may also be an effective treatment for light neck pain. Reducing phone or tablet use for short periods can relieve the strain and return things to normal.

For those who can’t break the device addiction, though, there’s risk of further symptoms. Neck pain may spread to the shoulders and upper back. You could develop low-level, chronic aches interspersed with sharp, stabbing pains or muscle spasms. When nerve root irritation occurs, your arms and hands could be affected, usually starting with tingling and numbness, but these could become radiated pain signals if the condition progresses.

Cervical radiculopathy

One of the bigger risks of tech neck could be the development of chronic cervical radiculopathy, the nerve irritation that causes referred pain in your arms. While doctors don’t know precisely how chronic irritation causes permanent damage, they suspect that chemical changes cause permanent nerve damage. Unlike mechanical nerve impingement, this type of damage has fewer treatment options.

Dealing with tech neck

Correcting your posture is something that’s under your control, so it should be your first course of action when you feel tech neck affecting you. Keeping your device at eye level more often relieves the stresses that place strain on your neck. Exchanging phone and tablet time for a desktop or laptop may also help you restore better posture.

When self-help measures aren’t effectively reducing tech neck symptoms, contact Capital Brain and Spine Surgery Center. Dr. Desh Sahni is a specialist in advanced treatment of neck and spine issues, including minimally invasive surgical procedures for the most severe neck issues. Contact the practice by phone or by using the booking link on the website.

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