Natural Approaches to Tech Neck
By Venus Ramos, MD
In this article:
Technology has changed the way we live. But this same technology has also changed the way we hurt.
In our efforts to stay connected, we spend a lot of time looking down at our devices–tablets, laptops and smartphones. As a result, our necks are literally feeling the strain of our dependence on these devices. This neck strain has been appropriately dubbed “tech neck.”
The most common sign is neck pain. This can be directly attributed to the added weight put on the spine when the neck bends forward so one can look down at a device screen. The average human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. Depending on the degree of the head tilt, the amount of pressure on the spine can increase up to 60 pounds. Continually stressing your spine in this manner could lead to early wear and tear, a degeneration of the spine known as osteoarthritis.
The symptoms of tech neck may actually be subtle at first. There might be some tension in the shoulders, mild ache or stiffness in the neck or general soreness in the upper body. The syndrome can also progress to development of headache, eye strain, or numbness, tingling and even weakness of the hands.
Since the position of the neck and head is directly related to the occurrence of tech neck, the most logical first step to prevent and correct the problem is to change the aggravating position. There are a couple of ways to do this.
First, try changing the position of the device. Set your computer screen at eye level. Hold your mobile phone up in front of your face. Next, change the position of your body by taking frequent breaks. Step away from the device and move around a bit. Try taking a 3-5-minute rest for every 20-30 minutes of staring at a screen.
Another type of break you should consider is a visual one. When you’re focused on digital work your eye muscles tend to blink less and contract more. This leads to blurred vision which exacerbates the problem as you lean further forward to see more clearly. As you scrunch your eyes to maintain focus, muscle tension can develop in your head, neck, and shoulders.
Give your eyes a much-needed break by following the “20-20-20” rule—for every 20 minutes you spend staring at a screen, change your gaze to look at an object that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
There are several exercises that can help counteract the strain of hunching over your devices.
Range of motion
Sit up straight. Then gently move your head into the following positions, holding each stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
- Lower your chin down toward your chest.
- Tilt your head back to look up toward the sky (or ceiling).
- Tilt your head so that your right ear moves down toward your right shoulder. Then do the same to the left side.
- Keeping your head level, turn your head to the right to look over your shoulder. Then do the same to the left side.
Avoid tensing your neck and shoulders. Move as far as you comfortably can into each position without forcing it.
Sit up straight. Use the fingertips of one hand to apply light pressure against your head in the following positions. Resist that pressure with your neck muscles, keeping your head in its upright position. Hold the resistance for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.
- Place fingertips at the forehead and apply light pressure against your head.
- Place fingertips at the right side of the head and apply light pressure against your head as you attempt to side-bend your head to the right. Then do the same on the left side.
- Place fingertips at the right side of the head and apply light pressure against your head as you attempt to rotate your head to the right. Then do the same on the left side.
Remember to continue breathing in and out during this strengthening exercise.
Stand up straight with feet about hip-width apart. Hold each of the following positions for 30 seconds.
- Y: Reach both arms up straight with palms facing each other and fingers extending up toward the sky.
- W: Then drop both upper arms so that they are parallel to the ground and your elbows are positioned at 90 degrees. Fingers continue to point up as palms face toward each other.
- T: Bring your lower arms down so that your elbows are straight (but not locked out) and palms are faced up.
- L: Drop your upper arms to your sides and position your elbows at 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your palms remain facing up.
There are several natural supplements that can help prevent and reduce the symptoms of tech neck.
MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane) is an organic form of sulfur that the body can easily absorb and utilize. It has the ability to reduce pain and inflammation because it can restore flexibility and permeability to the walls of your body’s cells. Pressure and pain result when rigid fibrous tissue cells swell and become inflamed. With increased permeability, fluids can pass through tissues more easily, reducing pressure buildup and decreasing pain.
Turmeric is a plant often used as a spice. It has great anti-inflammatory properties because it contains the powerful antioxidant known as curcumin. When supplementing with turmeric, it is important to note that the body has difficulty absorbing curcumin. Studies have found that taking freshly ground black pepper with turmeric can help. Piperine is the key active ingredient in black pepper which increases the absorbability of curcumin.
Magnesium is essential for muscle function. So, if your regular diet does not have enough whole grains, nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables to provide an adequate amount of magnesium, then you may need to supplement it. Magnesium has the ability to relax muscles and reduce muscle fatigue.
Collagen can help minimize the resulting symptoms when stress is placed on the tendons, ligaments, and cartilage involved in tech neck. Many clinical studies have shown that collagen supplementation decreases joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation while improving mobility and flexibility.