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The Truth about “Tech Neck”

Person slouched with a laptop on her lapAs I was tucking into my lunch last week and flicking through Hello Magazine, I stumbled across an article in the Lifestyle and Well-being section titled “Tech Neck”. The article discussed the increasing incidence of younger people experiencing neck and back pain, and attributed this to increasing amount of time spent hunched over phones, laptops and tablets. It went on to describe the increased pressure and load on the spine given the amount of head tilt when using such electronic devices. It was suggested that muscle strain around the head and neck region builds up for any periods of time lasting longer than 20 minutes when using electronic devices, but reassuringly any pain experienced is unlikely to cause long-term structural damage or problems.

I agree with the overall message of this article, and it did get me thinking about advice in the media regarding what we should be careful of, or should/shouldn’t do for fear of the physical repercussions. Any static position held for a prolonged period of time can contribute to pain – the human body was most definitely designed to move. It is an incredible machine – both resilient and adaptable to cope with the demands we place on it and a perfect example of this is somebody training gradually and sensibly in order to successfully complete a marathon. Pain starts to become an issue once the balance of load is interrupted. Spending prolonged periods of time on personal electronic devices (or indeed if you work in a desk-based environment using a computer for long periods of time) does exactly that, as quoted in the article it increases the load on the spine. The best management of this problem is two fold:

  1. Reduce the load – by spending less actual time in this position, or the frequency of use of the devices
  2. Increase your body’s ability to manage that load – by having enough strength and endurance in the muscles which support the head, neck and shoulders to cope with the task at hand

As discussed in a previous Central Health Physiotherapy blog, two out of three of us will experience neck pain at some point in our lives. Physiotherapists are ideally placed to help identify the factors for you which may be contributing to your neck or upper back symptoms, as well as guide you through a treatment and rehabilitation programme to ensure it does not become a recurrent issue. Addressing strength deficits is a big part of this as well as education about the importance of regular movement.

Just remember its all about the right balance and loading to the body’s tissues, and above all… motion is lotion! Movement provides lubrication and nourishment to not only our spine, but all of our joints and muscles.


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