If you are staring down at a tablet or a phone, or your neck is jutted out or you’re looking forward at a computer screen, the weight of your head starts to transfer forward and this increases the weight of your head. Over time, if you are in a consistent poor posture from looking down or looking forward, working or gaming, whatever it is, then the weight of your head is going to pull your neck out of alignment. When a neck shifts out of alignment, we start to break down on a physical and a physiological level. We can call it tech neck, military neck, there’s a bunch of names for it, but unfortunately, it is super, super common and it is derived from spending too much time in one posture or a poor posture looking at phones or devices.
Here is a quick bit of anatomy. Imagine you’re looking in the mirror and you’re looking at yourself. You’ve got the back of your head, your skull, you’ve got your jaw and then your ear should line up right on top of that bony part of your shoulder called the AC joint. Your neck curve, if you’re within textbook normal, should be negative 42 degrees. The curve is designed to absorb the weight of our head when you’re upright, because obviously gravity applies force and then our heads can weigh anywhere from 10 to 12, 12 to 15 pounds. So, when that occurs, the weight of your head is dispersed nice and evenly into the back of the joint, it keeps pressure off the joints, the discs, the nerves. Supplement that with good postural balance strength in the muscle groups and we function well.
As we start to use a cell phone or a tablet, or we are working from a computer, our head goes into flexion, which means we start to lock forward. It could go straight forward, that’s more anterior, out in front, or flexion forward where your chin drops to your chest. We use the bowling ball analogy, if you went bowling and you carried that ball, a ball of 10 pounds, nice and really tight to your chest is 10 pounds thereabouts. But as your arm starts getting further away from your chest, although the bowling ball is the exact same weight, it seems a lot, lot heavier.
The type of neck pain and other symptoms people experience from the improper use of technology can be wide-ranging. As your neck goes forward, it’s going to create tension in the muscles that anchor the skull to the top two bones of your neck (we call those the suboccipitals, the little muscles that anchor the base of your skull to the top two bones of your neck). They primarily rotate the head and then flex and extend it and look up and down. So, when your spine has gone straight and your head’s shifted forward, and that tissue is being pulled upon, it breaks down and when it breaks down it is weak and inflexible.
Neck pain could range from stiffness to that dull achy pain which typically is more muscle based. The shoulders start to round in and that increases pressure in the upper back and that can create upper back pain and shoulder pain. Over time this can create postural changes. We like to call that upper cross syndrome, which means the shoulders just start to round in and get really tight. These are the muscle-based problems. You can go anywhere from dull, stiff, achy, tight, all the way up to a sharp stabbing pain as symptomatology gets worse, your alignment gets worse, and we start increasing disc pressure. Then we can run into symptoms that are sharper in nature or numb, tingling, burning symptoms that start to refer away out of the neck into the shoulders and the hands and fingers. That’s usually a little bit more chronic in nature, the pain’s been there for a long time and obviously more developed. That typically is causing degeneration of the spine. Degeneration occurs over time when we are in chronic poor posture.
So, if you feel pain or any dysfunction, catch it early. It’s going to cost way less time, energy, and effort than it is if you leave it for three years and you can’t feel your left hand because it’s numb. Reach out to a neuromusculoskeletal specialist or a chiropractor, somebody who specializes in treating the spine and the nervous system. A chiropractor’s wheelhouse is low back pain and neck pain. Chiropractic is a non-drug-based approach to health care, so they are going to offer you more of a natural, homeopathic way to relieve your neck pain. Chiropractors treat the cause, not the symptom, and by doing that you’re going to take care of the symptom.
There are things you can do at home to protect your neck and improve your posture. A good rule of thumb is if you look straight ahead, open your palm, put your little finger of your left or your right hand right in that little ridge in between the collarbones and the sternum, and then bring your chin down. As soon as it touches, that’s as much flexion, bending force that we should allow the head to do. So next time you’re on your mobile phone, your tablet, or you’re working, if you just do that check and you can’t get your fingers between your chin and your chest, then your chin is too close to your chest. And that will, over time, due to the bowling ball analogy, create that tech neck for you.
Also, easier said than done for some people, limit your screen time. If you’re a corporate attorney and you work 18-hour days, that’s going to be tough, but maybe you’re 16 years old and you’ve done your homework, then get outside and run around.
You can also do some good postural exercises at home or at work. A couple of really good exercises you can do are neck retractions, wall angels, and an exercise called Brugger’s that you don’t need any equipment for. You can literally do them with your own body against the wall, or you don’t even need to do against the wall. You can start doing those during your day when you’re working or you’re gaming or you’re playing on your phone. You can look on YouTube them and you will find some great videos. We’ve got a YouTube channel, Advanced Chiropractic South Loop that you could check out that includes loads of good postural exercises you can do at home.