7 Tips to Avoid ‘Tech Neck’

Overuse of a smartphone or a tablet can strain your neck. Here’s our expert advice.
Teenage boy sitting, bent head down, looking at phone screen

As an occupational therapist at University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center, Sarah Morrison sees a lot of people with upper body pain stemming from repetitive motion and poor posture.

As the mom of a 10-year-old boy, she also pays attention to the way her son and his friends hold their devices and their bodies as they text and play video games.

Both fields of observation piqued her concern. She started to research the burgeoning phenomenon referred to as “tech neck” – where overuse of a smartphone or a tablet can strain your neck to the point of causing back pain, headaches and other physical symptoms.

That strain, Morrison says, is significant. A study conducted by Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, found that looking at a phone at a 60-degree angle is about the same as applying 60 extra pounds of force on the spine. According to Hansraj's study, adults spend an average of two to four hours a day reading and texting on mobile devices, and high school students spend significantly more.

But physical problems can be prevented with the right posture and adjusting how a device is held.

Morrison offers these tips to help people use their devices safely, adding “we like to be a part of health promotion and injury prevention whenever we can, as opposed to fixing problems after the fact.”

  1. Stack the Blocks: Whether you’re standing, sitting, or lying in bed, think of your body as a tower of blocks. Try to “stack the blocks,” aligning your ankles, shins, pelvic bones, ribs, shoulders and neck.
  2. Avoid Chin to Chest: Don't rest your phone or tablet on your stomach. Bringing the chin to the chest puts too much stress and strain on the neck.
  3. Align Your Spine: When reading in bed, make sure your neck is supported with a pillow and aligned with the rest of your spine.
  4. Lift to Look: Lift up the device, closer to eye level, and at a distance that feels right for you, so you're not tilting your neck down.
  5. Take a Break: Look up and around every five to 10 minutes, which offers a good vision break as well.
  6. Use Both Hands to hold the device.
  7. Be Mindful: Ask family or co-workers to say something if they notice you're slouching or hunching over your device.

Morrison is actively working to spread these preventive tips, and was recently inspired to write a blog post on the subject – which, she admits with a laugh, she typed on a smartphone while riding in a car.

“This is going to become a problem as we become more and more of a smartphone society,” she says. “Awareness is key.”

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