What is Tech Neck and How Does it Happen?

Tech neck is the loss of the curve in the neck due to looking down for hours at a time and maintaining poor posture.

Could you please start us off by explaining what the term tech neck means?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Tech neck is essentially a new medical phenomenon that we’re seeing within the healthcare space. And essentially it means that you have lost the curve in your neck. Imagine you sat in front of a mirror, you’re looking to your left or your right in the mirror. You should be on top with your shoulder. Now, that should indicate the top bone is on top of the bottom bone. And when you biomechanically evaluate the spine, it needs to have a negative 42-degree curve in your neck. That’s normal alignment. And we’ve discussed alignment in our last podcast. So essentially, tech neck indicates if you’re looking at your posture in the mirror, and your ear is in front of your shoulder or in front of your chest, you more than likely need to be shot an X-Ray.

That top bone is shifting in front of the bottom. Can’t say that definitively unless you shoot an x-ray. And then usually what occurs with that is, as you start to lose alignment, the top bone in front of the bottom bone, you start to lose the curve, too. Essentially, that is tech neck: the top bone shifting in front of the bottom bone and you’re losing the curve in your neck, and your neck just looks really straight. It’s something we’ve seen a lot of today, typically in our younger corporate athletes, due to what we’re about to discuss here in a moment, all the things that we spend far too much time sitting and far too much time looking down at our phones or tablets. But I know you’re going to ask me a few questions about that.

What causes someone to develop tech neck?

Dr. Luke Stringer: People would have developed the shift in the posture, the loss of the curve, and it’s usually caused from too much time looking down, and down as in flexion, at your mobile phone, your iPad, or your computer. We’re bipedal, two legs are supposed to be upright and moving, but today’s society demands us to essentially sit at a desk, looking down at a keyboard all day. So over time, these repetitive stresses, as your head shifts out in front of your chest, that increases the weight of your head biomechanically. And then when you look down, not only has the weight of your head increased, but you’re also looking down. So, it’s going to pull your neck out of alignment. So slowly but surely you can develop a lack of curve in your neck, which is technically tech neck.

How long does it take to develop a case of tech neck?

Dr. Luke Stringer: It’s a great question and really tough to say exactly, because every case is different, right? How old are you, are complaints rolling in, how much time are you physically spending looking at your phone? Someone who looks at it for an hour compared to someone who looks at it for 10 hours, is obviously going to develop tech neck a lot faster, looking for 10 hours to one hour. So, it’s tough to put a number on it, cause it’s case to case dependent. But honestly it really doesn’t take too long at all.

For example, we have a dentist as a patient, came in, his neck curve wasn’t terrible, alignment wasn’t terrible. We didn’t see him for three months and he was extremely busy at work. So, what do dentist do, they are looking down at people’s mouths all day. Within three months, he’d completely lost his curve.  He has a two-inch shift from the top bone in front of his bottom bone, and it accelerated due to the degeneration processes at several levels and went from first generation to phase two within three months. So, that’s someone who probably is looking down six straight hours a day every day. So, if you do that much looking down, it’s really not going to take too long to develop the tech neck.

Can tech neck be corrected, if yes, what is the process like for someone going through it?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely it can be corrected. Now, how much correction again, is based on the patient, right? And there’s a lot that goes into how a neck can be corrected. Let’s imagine the rest of your spine is within normal limits. So, your upper to mid back, your low back, and the only shift we have is from the lateral side where your top bone shifted in front of your bottom bones, your ear is in front of your chest, and you’ve lost the curve. Now, we don’t have degenerative changes, and we don’t have any other contraindications. Then that neck should absolutely be able to be corrected.

What does the process look? So, first and foremost, you need to find a chiropractic practice practicing the technique called chiropractic biophysics. It’s the most researched form of chiropractic. It’s all science and data. It’s biomechanical assessment of your spine. So obviously, when you see a chiropractor, who’s qualified with chiropractic biophysics, they’ll take you through the consultation and exam, and they will shoot x-rays. Based on those x-rays, they will analyze the shift in your spine, but not just your neck, the rest of your spine and you’ll go through a course of corrective care.

Corrective care needs to be at least 30 minutes long. So, it’s going to be three times a week for 10 weeks or four times a week for eight weeks. You will go through what we call the eat process, exercise, adjustment, traction. So, you need to focus on the soft tissue to break down adhesion, which is scar tissue within the tissue and the joint. You need to go through mobility work to increase the mobility within the spine. You need to address any postural changes that occur. For example, your left shoulder is higher than your right shoulder, and that’s pulling your neck to the left, that needs to be addressed and you need to be adjusted based on those x-ray findings. So, joints that are out of alignment and not moving well, that needs to be addressed. And then obviously you need to do spinal traction, which is what separates chiropractic biophysics from traditional, just more “normal” chiropractic. And that’s how you can objectively change the shape of the spine, which is awesome because objective change creates long-term improvement.

And again, research is clear. People who go through corrective care with the traction, always do better on their follow-ups that is three months, a year later than people who did the same adjustments, the same rehab but didn’t do the traction. So yeah, that’s pretty much how we treat our patients, and take our patients from poor posture, tech neck, back and neck curves in the back of the neck so they feel and function far better.

What should people do to avoid getting tech neck?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Okay. So, this is going to be a short answer, but this is kind of the golden rule. If you are sitting or standing and you’re not looking straight in front of you, and you’re looking at your phone or your tablet or your keyboard, you want to make sure that your chin is four fingers off your chest. So, we can all do it, get your hand, separate your thumb from your fingers, put your little finger on your sternum, and then bring your chin down to hit the top of that finger. That’s the maximum amount of flexion looking forward that we should allow in our neck, period. So, if you’re reading a book in bed or you’re at home scrolling on Instagram, or you’re at your work and you’re looking down, doing all your work, that’s a little cheat code.

So, four fingers between your chin and your chest, that should keep your head out of flexion. And that should assist with you essentially not getting tech neck. But also, just practice good ergonomics. Make sure you get a sit stand desk for sitting and standing, make sure you are sitting properly, make sure you take your postural breaks in your workday to make sure those little muscles that keep the spine in alignment are working. And we discussed that on our previous podcast, good ergonomics and postural breaks that we can do.

So, I think if you practice those three or four things, good ergonomics, chin off the chest, and those postural breaks, you should be in good shape.

Learn More

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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