How to Fix and Prevent Tech Neck

Learn how “tech neck” may be causing neck pain, symptoms of tech neck, and how to treat it, including stretching exercises from our physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Older-man-with-neck-down-looking-at-his-phone

How to Fix and Prevent Tech Neck

Learn how “tech neck” may be causing neck pain, symptoms of tech neck, and how to treat it, including stretching exercises from our physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Older-man-with-neck-down-looking-at-his-phone

How to Fix and Prevent Tech Neck

Learn how “tech neck” may be causing neck pain, symptoms of tech neck, and how to treat it, including stretching exercises from our physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Older-man-with-neck-down-looking-at-his-phone

How to Fix and Prevent Tech Neck

Learn how “tech neck” may be causing neck pain, symptoms of tech neck, and how to treat it, including stretching exercises from our physical therapists.

Published Date: May 21, 2024
Older-man-with-neck-down-looking-at-his-phone
Table of Contents

Are you reading this on your phone? If you are, take a second to notice the position of your neck. Is it pitched forward, causing your shoulders to hunch over? It’s a stance many of us take when looking down at our devices and it can lead to a condition called “tech neck.” As you might guess, tech neck, sometimes called text neck, refers to neck pain that occurs as the result of repetitive strain on neck muscles that comes from looking forward and down at a device, like a phone or tablet. 

Tech neck is pretty common, which is not surprising when you consider that the average person spends more than four hours each day looking at their phone, according to a 2022 survey

Next time you’re waiting in line at a store, at the airport, or on public transportation, look around at everyone using their phones. “You’ll notice that everyone’s head is protruded forward as they look down at their phones,” says Steve Goostree, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “Over time, that can cause both neck and upper back pain.” 

Let’s get real though: Phones are a big part of our daily routines. In fact, many people look down at their phones all day long and don’t experience neck pain or stiffness. But there are few key things you can do to reduce your risk of developing tech neck symptoms. Here’s what physical therapists recommend.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Steven Goostree, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Goostree is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

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Symptoms of Tech Neck

You may be experiencing tech neck if you notice the following:

  • Pain or stiffness in your neck, upper back, or shoulders

  • Reduced mobility in your neck, upper back, or shoulders

  • Neck spasms

  • Headaches

  • Numbness or tingling down your arms  

What Causes Tech Neck?

Your neck muscles work hard all day long to support your head. When you’re looking down at your phone or sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, the muscles in your neck have to work extra hard to support your head in this forward posture. Although your muscles are strong and your neck is resilient, doing this too much, or too often, can make your neck muscles sore and tight. 

Think about it like this: Bicep curls can be an effective way to challenge and strengthen your muscles. But if you held a dumbbell in a bicep curl for hours without taking a break, your arm would feel stiff, tired, and achy, wouldn’t it? 

The solution to tech neck isn’t a matter of avoiding looking at your phone altogether, but rather incorporating more movement throughout your day with gentle neck stretches. You’ll also find it helpful to change your position more frequently when you’re using your phone.

How to Treat Tech Neck

Don’t worry — we’re not going to tell you to give up scrolling on your phone. But there are simple changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing neck pain as the result of your screen time. 

The following tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists and medical doctors can provide relief for tech neck pain: 

  • Get up and move. If you sit a lot at your job, get up and move around every 30 to 60 minutes. You’ll naturally move your neck into different positions and movement, in general, will send oxygenated blood to tired muscles and help reduce inflammation and pain. 

  • Adjust your chair. Place a cushion or pillow behind your low back when you work, suggests Dr. Goosetree. That should help you shift out of your normal sitting position and take some pressure off your neck muscles so they aren’t as strained. 

  • Raise your phone and computer. Aim to have your phone and your computer close to eye level, advises Dr. Goostree. If you have a laptop, consider a wireless keyboard, which will allow you to keep your screen at eye level.

  • Get a massage. A massage can be a great way to work out muscle knots in the neck. In fact, a 2020 study in the journal Musculoskeletal Science Practice found that people with neck pain who got six massages over a six-week period reported less pain after three months than those who didn’t. People who combined massage with exercise reported the greatest relief. 

  • Engage in relaxation exercises. Stress can worsen neck tension and thus cause more pain. Try simple deep breathing exercises at your desk: take a deep breath in, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale.

  • Neck Rotation
  • Head Tilts
  • Chin Tucks
  • Scapular Clocks
  • Seated Cat Cow

These exercises, recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists, are all recommended to help with tech neck symptoms. “You want to keep your neck muscles and joints mobile,” says Dr. Goostree. When your neck is more flexible, it can reduce strain on your muscles and improve mobility and function. Translation: You may experience less pain and stiffness. In fact, a 2017 review in the South African Journal of Physiotherapy looked at eight studies and found that basic strengthening and stretching neck exercises helped relieve neck pain among office workers.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

How to Prevent Tech Neck

Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of tech neck, it’s a good idea to develop healthy tech and ergonomic habits. Consider these tips:

  • Go on a “tech diet.” Set some reasonable limits on your screen time. If you need to be on your computer for work — but not your phone — keep your phone out of sight so you’re less tempted to use it. Build tech breaks into your day, like a 10-minute walk during lunch. When you’re off hours, use a screen monitoring app.

  • Consider a standing desk. A CDC study found that when workers used standing desks for about an hour a day, they reduced their upper back and neck pain by 54%. 

  • Adjust your workstation. If you can’t invest in a standing desk, there are little changes you can make to your office setup that can help prevent you from putting strain on your neck: Keep your line of sight parallel to the floor with your screen at eye level (prop your laptop or monitor on a stack of books), make sure your chair has good back support, and adjust your chair so that your knees are level with your hips.

  • Stay active. Regular aerobic exercise (elliptical, stationary bike, swimming, or brisk walking) strengthens neck and upper back muscles, which can help prevent tech neck and shoulder pain. Good moves include scapular squeezes, wall push-ups, and resistance band rows.

  • Lighten your load. Declutter heavy backpacks and over-the-shoulder purses. If you have kids, monitor how often you hold them. Wheeled backpacks and strollers are good alternatives. 

  • Sleep smart. If you sleep on your back, try using a small pillow under the nape of your neck and one under your knees to see if it helps support your cervical spine and relax neck muscles. If you sleep on your side, try stacking enough pillows to keep your neck in line with your body. 

When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, you can manage tech neck on your own with some tweaks to your office space, regular exercise, and stretches. See a healthcare provider if your pain is severe and makes it hard to do everyday activities or if it doesn’t improve in a couple of weeks. They may recommend physical therapy to help relieve your neck pain. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

You should also see a doctor if you have numbness or tingling in your arms and legs or your neck pain occurs with headache, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting.

PT Tip: Take Water Breaks 

Your muscles need fluid to stay hydrated. If you don’t get enough, your neck muscles can contract or spasm, which makes symptoms of tech neck worse, says Dr. Goostree. There’s also another reason to guzzle that water: It will encourage you to take more bathroom breaks so that you build some activity into your day.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

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  2. Skillgate, E., Pico-Espinosa, O. J., Côté, P., Jensen, I., Viklund, P., Bottai, M., & Holm, L. W. (2020). Effectiveness of deep tissue massage therapy, and supervised strengthening and stretching exercises for subacute or persistent disabling neck pain. The Stockholm Neck (STONE) randomized controlled trial. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 45, 102070. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2019.102070

  3. Isaac, Z. & Dec, K. L. (2022, September 20). Patient Education: Neck Pain (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/neck-pain-beyond-the-basics

  4. Louw, S., Makwela, S., Manas, L., Meyer, L., Terblanche, D., & Brink, Y. (2017). Effectiveness of exercise in office workers with neck pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. South African Journal of Physiotherapy, 73(1). doi:10.4102/sajp.v73i1.392

  5. Pronk, N. P., Katz, A. S., Lowry, M., & Payfer, J. R. Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. (2012). Prevention of Chronic Disease, 9, 110323. Doi:10.5888.pcd9.11032

  6. Burr, R. J. (2022, April 10). Ten Things That You Are Doing Wrong At Your Standing Desk. Start Standing. https://www.startstanding.org/standing-desks/10-standing-desk-mistakes/

  7. What’s Causing Your Neck Pain? (2022, January 21). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/neck-pain-causes/

  8. How to Prevent ‘Tech Neck’. n.d.). New York Presbyterian: Health Matters. Retrieved from https://healthmatters.nyp.org/how-to-prevent-tech-neck/