Tech neck is a 21st-century epidemic that's not only painful and unattractive, it could lead to premature arthritis and other maladies for modern generations.
Also known as text neck, the condition is pervasive: studies show that more than 73% of people report mild to severe neck and upper back pain, and more than 75% of us spend several hours hunched over our smartphones daily.
The good news is you can prevent and even reverse the consequences of tech neck. This guide details tech neck causes, symptoms, dangers and treatment options to help relieve pain and promote a healthy, natural neck curve.
- What is tech neck, exactly, and what causes it?
- Tech neck symptoms
- Why tech neck is dangerous
- How to fix tech neck
- Exercises and stretches
- Posture correctors
- Posture apps
- Doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists
- Practice mindfulness
- How to get rid of tech neck wrinkles
- Tech neck: Before and after
What is tech neck, exactly, and what causes it?
Tech neck is forward head posture specifically caused by our interactions with technology. Poor posture while sitting in front of a computer or looking down to search, read and play on our smartphones places our necks in an unnatural position, straining the cervical muscles and leading to neck and upper back pain, tension headaches, and even an unappealing neck hump.
"Tech neck is a forward flexion posture affecting the cervical spine and associated musculature," says Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, who owns Montgomery County Chiropractor Center in North Wales, PA. "Commonly associated with prolonged looking downward motions like texting or typing, tech neck reverses the cervical lordotic curve of the neck region."
He says tech neck commonly affects these muscles and causes contractions and spasms:
- Cervical neck flexors that run along neck vertebrae
- Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles between the base of the skull and ears
- Pectoralis major muscles in the neck and shoulders
Text neck can also lead to chronic weakness in the:
- Thoracic paraspinals that support the upper back
- Rhomboid major muscles that bridge the scapulae (shoulder blades) and the spine
- Rhomboid minor muscles located above the rhomboid majors
Though technology is often blamed, it's important to understand that tech neck is caused not by technology itself, but by our tendency to use poor posture when interacting with technology.
"Tech neck is a flattening or losing the normal curvature of the cervical spine," explains Dr. Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS, who owns and operates Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation in Scottsdale, AZ. He works with elite athletes from the NFL, MLB, NHL, USA Track and Field, NCAA and high school. "The most common cause being a sedentary lifestyle, specifically sitting for long periods of time with bad posture. Over time, the repetition of sitting and slouching becomes habitual, and our bodies create a muscle memory to support bad posture. Typical symptoms include neck and upper back pain, tightness and stiffness, as well as associated headaches."
Tech neck is a growing pain
More and more people are affected, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help as millions adopted poor posture while working from home. Indeed, one study found that:
- 36.5% of people report mild text neck syndrome
- 23.4% report moderate text neck syndrome
- 2.1% report severe text neck syndrome
Moreover, the prevalence of smartphones and classroom devices means the condition negatively impacts our youth. A study of more than 200 children and adolescents found that 100% of participants flexed their necks greater than 45 degrees while spending an average of 5 to 7 hours a day on smartphones and handheld devices. That's important because the more we shift our heads forward, the greater the strain on our necks.
- Proper posture (0 degrees) places 10 to 12 lbs. of strain on the neck, which is normal
- A 15-degree shift forward increases that to 27 lbs.
- A 45-degree shift forward increases that to 49 lbs.
- A 60-degree shift forward increases that to 60 lbs.
Imagine how sore you would be if you hung a 60-lb. weight from your forehead for 5 to 7 hours a day. That's essentially what you're doing when you crane your neck to look at your smartphone, and it's the reason text neck has become so prevalent today.
Tech neck symptoms
Common symptoms of tech neck, or text neck, include:
- Chronic neck pain
- Upper back pain
- Stiff neck
- Tension headaches and migraines
- Chronic weakness and fatigue in neck and back muscles
Left untreated, tech neck can lead to more severe conditions such as:
- Humped neck
- Neck wrinkles
- Balance issues
- Decreased range of motion
- Herniated discs or disc degeneration
- Nerve compression
- Tingling and weakness
"Tech neck can lead to headaches and migraines as the suboccipital muscles are flexed forward, which leads to muscle spasms and referral tension headaches," says Dr. Conrad. "Other symptoms of tech neck include pain, shoulder weakness, postural imbalances and tingling and weakness in the upper extremity."
Why tech neck is dangerous
Clearly, tech neck isn't just a pain in the neck. It's a dangerous condition that can lead to early-onset arthritis. In fact, doctors say today's teens could develop arthritis in their 20's.
"There is a significantly higher likelihood of developing early-onset arthritis with tech neck," says Dr. Tanneberg. "Losing the proper structure of the spine will apply additional pressure to individual joints, making them work harder. With habitual bad posture and the subsequent development of tech neck, the next part of the progression is degeneration."
Dr. Tanneberg explains that deterioration begins when joints, discs and muscles are consistently forced to work harder than designed. Joints wear down quicker, causing greater pain and triggering the degenerative process much earlier than normal.
"As degeneration gets worse, treatment options get more and more limited," he says. "For example, chiropractors are limited to only specific adjustment techniques when degeneration is involved, similar to surgeons having fewer options surgically when degeneration is involved."
Tech neck can also cause wrinkles
For some people, a "side effect" of tech neck is the formation of neck wrinkles, lines and creases that can make one appear older.
"In the world of dermatology, tech neck is a phrase that refers to the fine lines and wrinkles that form around the neck and are caused by repeatedly looking downward at technology, like our phones," says Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. "Not only does this constant downward position of the head and neck often cause neck pain, but it also creates dynamic wrinkles on the neck from repeated movement and position."
Dr. Green explains that text neck wrinkles are similar to the development of forehead wrinkles, "the elevens" or glabellar lines, and crow's feet or wrinkles around the eyes – other dynamic wrinkles formed from repeated muscle movement and exacerbated by the loss of collagen that naturally occurs with age.
How to fix tech neck
Fortunately, you can get rid of tech neck through a combination of therapies. Depending on the severity of your condition, fixing tech neck could take anywhere from a few months to a year or more – but you should begin noticing results such as better posture and reduced pain within a few weeks. Here are tech neck treatment options.
Tech neck exercises and stretches
Exercises and stretches – with proper form – are some of the best ways to correct tech neck over time. Start with the following exercises and stretches (if one becomes too painful, back off until it no longer hurts).
1. Lateral flexion
2. Rotation with flexion
3. Rotation with extension
Look over your shoulder as far as you can, then look up as high as you can. Rotate your head to the side. Hold for 15 seconds, 2 reps on each side.
Sit in a chair and scoot to the edge. Spread your legs out with your feet flat on the floor. Grab your left ankle with your right hand. Then, press your left hand into the elbow crease of your right arm. Hold for 15 seconds, 2 reps on each side.
Stand with your back against the interior of a door frame. Relax your arms and squeeze your shoulder blades down and back against the door frame. Hold for 5 seconds, 10 repetitions.
6. Corner stretch
Place your forearms parallel on either side of a wall corner. Lean into the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds, move your arms up 45 degrees and hold for another 15 seconds, then fully extend your arms overhead for another 15 seconds. Do 2 reps at each of the three levels.
7. Floor stretch
Lie down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slide your head along the floor to lengthen the back of the neck (do not jut your chin forward). Hold for 60 seconds.
8. Standing stretch
While standing, place one hand behind your head. Lower your chin and push the back of your head into the palm of your hand. Remove your hand and try to maintain proper alignment. Complete this stretch several times daily.
9. Doorway stretch
10. Stomach stretch
Lie on your stomach, arms like a cactus, and let your forehead touch the floor. Lift your arms and head without lifting your chin. Repeat 10 times.
11. Bed/couch stretch
Yoga for tech neck
Yoga is another way to prevent, treat and reverse tech neck's effects. Try these yoga poses.
1. Pigeon pose
2. Downward dog
Posture correctors and braces
Tech neck braces and posture correctors gently retract your shoulders and provide ongoing physiological feedback that reminds you to maintain proper posture while sitting, standing, walking and running. They work well in combination with other treatments.
"A combination of chiropractic care, therapeutic core exercises and postural correctors can help improve the spinal integrity," explains Dr. Conrad. "By improving proper posture of the vertebrae and its associated muscles, you can help prevent the symptoms associated with tech neck."
Posture apps can analyze your posture and guide you through correction techniques. There are four types of posture apps available for mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers:
- Posture exercises, stretches and yoga
- Reminders to maintain proper posture
- Posture analysis (using your phone camera and other sensors)
- Slouch detectors (using your webcam)
Massage can help alleviate pain caused by text neck, though it won't fix the condition itself. Use massage in conjunction with other therapies for best results.
Low-profile pillows can help alleviate tech neck symptoms. Thick pillows can bend your neck into an unnatural position while you sleep, while thinner pillows make it easier to retain your neck's natural curve and keep it in a neutral position.
Doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists
If your text neck symptoms are severe, you're in significant pain, or you're unable to correct the condition on your own, it's best to consult a medical expert. Surgery is rarely, if ever, indicated for tech neck. Instead, your physician or therapist will help you regain natural neck posture over time.
"Anyone who is texting or typing on their phone or computer for over six hours a day should consult a doctor of chiropractic for a postural examination," says Dr. Conrad. "The chiropractor can evaluate if you have early signs of tech neck, perform chiropractic adjustments to improve your range of motion, and teach you therapeutic exercises to help improve the strength of any weakened postural muscles. They can also recommend any braces or supports which may help reinforce these improvements for prolonged computer use."
Despite our best intentions, it's easy to slip back into bad habits and just as easy to overcorrect or try the wrong remedy for tech neck. Mindfulness is a powerful way to continually remind yourself to maintain proper neck posture while working, driving, sitting or playing.
Mindfulness begins with understanding what you're doing to cause tech neck, then creating an environment to prevent it.
"There are basically two ways people look at screens: looking forward, looking down, or some combination of both," says Lindsay Newitter, a posture expert who teaches The Alexander Technique – a method to naturally improve posture – from her private practices in Montreal and New York City.
"The simplest way to describe what happens to people's posture that leads to tech neck is that they use their head and neck as if they are fused together, either dropping the head and neck down from the base of their neck – like to look at a phone – or by pushing their face forward – like to look at a computer screen," she says. "Pushing the face forward causes the head and neck to move forward and the head to rotate back, creating tension in the back of the neck at the same time."
Newitter explains that muscles in the upper back and neck end up overworking to support the head as it moves forward in space, which can cause those muscles to look overdeveloped and create a hump. She says people might find a hump alarming, but it's simply how the back and neck respond to the weight of their heads staying out of alignment for hours at a time.
"I typically work with people for five to fifteen sessions to help improve body awareness and change postural habits," she says. "Body awareness is key. If you feel like your head and neck are glued together, you'll keep moving them as if they are and you'll keep reinforcing the tech neck."
Newitter offers the following tips to increase awareness and create an environment that facilitates proper neck posture:
- When you look down at your device, gently drop (not tuck) your chin without allowing your whole head and neck to drop
- When you look at your computer, think of it as if you're allowing what you see to come to you rather than having to push your face forward to see what's on the screen
- If you're genuinely straining to read your computer screen, bring the screen closer to you or increase the font size
- Hold your phone at chest level with your arm close to your body. Holding the phone way out in front is often tiring and causes other postural issues
- Whenever possible, make sure your computer screen is at eye level (somewhere between the middle and top of the screen)
- If you're using your laptop on a desk or table, raise the laptop with a stand or a stack of books. Use a separate keyboard and mouse so you don't have to reach up
- Avoid overcorrecting your posture. If you find yourself slouching at your desk, instead of pulling up, move your chair close and sit all the way back in the chair. Place a pillow behind your back if you like to sit a bit more forward
How to get rid of tech neck wrinkles
"There are numerous non-invasive cosmetic treatment options that are safe and effective for diminishing the appearance of tech neck wrinkles," says Dr. Green.
Treatment options include:
Botox reduces fine lines and wrinkles on the neck, including those associated with text neck. It’s an injectable neurotoxin derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and works by inhibiting nerve signals responsible for muscle contraction.
"Injecting Botox into a treatment area essentially 'freezes' it, which leads to a smoother, more youthful skin texture," says Dr. Green. "When injected into the neck muscles, Botox causes them to relax, effectively diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and bands."
The effects of Botox are temporary, and treatment needs to be repeated every three to four months.
A liquid injectable dermal filler, Sculptra can be used in the neck and décolletage area to diminish the appearance of wrinkles and restore lost volume. It works by stimulating collagen production in the skin.
"By inducing the generation of new collagen, Sculptra can be used to eliminate the appearance of neck lines that are related to aging or tech neck," says Dr. Green. "Patients generally require a short series of Sculptra injections to achieve their ideal results, which then last for up to two years."
Thermage is a non-invasive skin-tightening laser that uses radiofrequency energy to deliver heat to the skin's dermis, stimulating new collagen production. Dr. Green's patients see results after a single session, and the treatment can last up to two years.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and an essential skincare ingredient for anti-aging purposes. It works by stimulating skin cell turnover to improve skin texture and soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Dr. Green says incorporating retinol into your skincare routine early can help prevent neck lines from forming. Using retinol on existing neck lines can help soften the appearance of deep wrinkles.
Dr. Green stresses the importance of prevention to avoid getting tech neck wrinkles in the first place.
"Practice sitting and standing straight with your shoulders back, and bring your phone or tablet up to eye level instead of arching your neck downward," she suggests. "Start using retinol and moisturizer on both the face and neck early on to stimulate collagen production and prevent signs of aging like wrinkles. Don't forget to apply sunscreen with SPF 50 daily on both face and neck to prevent sun damage caused by UV radiation that contributes to premature signs of aging."
Tech neck: Before and after
If you're suffering from tech neck, you're likely experiencing varying degrees of pain and loss of mobility. You might have even developed a neck hump or neck wrinkles. The good news is that through a combination of therapies, you can reverse the effects of text neck, relieve pain, enjoy greater mobility, maintain proper posture with a natural spinal curve, diminish existing wrinkles and prevent new wrinkles from forming.
Explore the treatment options listed here – exercise and stretches, yoga, posture correctors, chiropractic care and others – and be sure to consult a specialist if you're unable to correct tech neck on your own.Looking for a lightweight, comfortable, stylish posture corrector that works? Try BackEmbrace!