The amount of time Americans spend using technology is steadily rising, and with it so is the amount of neck strain and pain they are feeling. Using computers and mobile devices puts strain on your neck, and that consistent strain can lead to complicated, painful problems later in life.
The part of your spine that makes up your neck is the cervical spine, and it is the thinnest part of your spine. It consists of vertebrae and, between the vertebrae, small discs that provide cushioning. The average human head weighs 8-10 pounds, and that full weight is supported by the cervical spine.
When you sit or stand up straight and look ahead, your cervical spine is supported by all of the vertebrae below it. But, when you lean your head forward and look down, the structures in your cervical spine must support the full weight of your head without support from the rest of your spine. If you place your hand on the back of your neck while you look down, you can feel the muscles contract to help hold the weight of your head.
When those muscles stay contracted for too long, they begin to shorten and lose flexibility. Over a period of time, that can lead to strain, disc injury, or even structural changes to your cervical spine.
Common symptoms of neck strain include:
It’s unlikely that you’ll be free from the bonds of technology any time soon, but there are some steps you can take to protect your neck.
Simply moving around every 15 to 30 minutes can help tremendously. If you can, stand up, walk around, and stretch. You’ll benefit in two ways by moving around several times every hour. You’ll keep your blood moving, and you’ll be repositioning your neck.
It’s easy to sit in the same position for several hours if you’re absorbed in your work, watching a movie, or playing a game. If you can’t get up every 15-30 minutes, at least stretch your neck, shoulders, and arms, and reposition yourself.
It’s easy to think, “Oh, that’s a good idea! I’ll move every 30 minutes.” It’s much harder to actually remember to do it. Set alarms for yourself to help you build a habit that will help you keep your neck healthy!
If you use a tablet or a laptop frequently, consider getting a holder for it that will keep you from looking down all the time. You may need to use an external keyboard with your laptop, but the lessened neck strain makes it worth it. You still need to move regularly, but having your device at eye level is a good start to easing the stiff neck.
You should do mini-exercises during your regularly scheduled short breaks, like shoulder rolls, but regular aerobic exercise may help as well. Biking, jogging, swimming, walking briskly, and other exercise that gets your heart rate up helps keep the muscles in your neck fueled with oxygen, which can lessen inflammation, and, in turn, lessen pain.
Exercise is also an excellent form of stress relief, and stress can make your already tight muscles even tighter. Exercise alone may not be enough to prevent neck strain, but it can help your muscles heal.
If you’re having neck pain, book an appointment online or by phone with Dr. Ngu at Premier Spine Institute. Stopping the pain may be a simple matter of changing your tech habits, but it’s important to rule out other possible causes as well.