Tech neck is a term that has been increasingly popular in our profession as we are seeing an increasing number of patients with a loss, or even reversal, of the normal cervical (neck) curvature.
I have been in practice for over 25 years and have seen firsthand the result of postural strain secondary to prolonged computer and personal hand held devices (cell phone) use. I believe that the problem is getting worse. I am seeing younger patients present with poor posture, rounded shoulders and symptomatic neck pain and headaches.
This is a concern because it is accelerating what use to be an age related problem.
The average head weighs between 10-12 pounds, and according to a study published in the journal Surgical Technology International, pressure and poundage increases on the spine the further you tip it forward.
According to this study, if you tip your head forward 15 degrees it will exert 27 pounds of pressure on your spine. Tilting the neck forward 30 degrees and you will put 40 pounds’ pressure. Tilt your neck 60 degrees and 60 pounds of pressure will be exerted. This is staggering considering the duration that people sit at their computers with their head jutted forward day in and day out.
Not surprising, all this hunching can lead to migraines, neck pain and eventually osteoarthritis.
Imagine holding a broom with an outstretched arm by the handle. If the broom is straight up at a 90-degree angle, it is not too difficult to balance. Now, take this broom and bend the opposite end forward 60 degrees forward and attempt to hold it. It quickly becomes a struggle to support the weight of the opposite end. This is what happens to the cervical spine with poor posture. As the day progresses the neck muscles will start to fatigue and eventually go into spasm. The point where the neck muscles attach, the shoulder blades and the base of the skull, will receive the brunt of the strain. This is what will often trigger headaches and the nagging shoulder blade pain.
Awareness is key.
Being mindful of your posture is the best starting point. As you are on the computer make sure that your shoulders are not rolling forward and that you are not poking your head forward. This will often happen as people concentrate on their work. Think “sit tall/stand tall”. Keeping your ears over the middle shoulder point should be the goal.
Train yourself to hold your phone at eye level while looking at it.
Work at a stand up desk.
You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking. Thankfully, more companies and individual workers are transitioning to stand up desks. This will not only help your posture but also relieve pressure on the lower spine.
As we age our bodies naturally trend towards a kyphotic (hunched) posture. Unfortunately, poor posture will accelerate the aging process, decrease lung capacity, and flat out make us appear frail, frumpy and old.
By recognizing the physics of poor posture, being mindful of our position in space, and adopting strategies to mitigate the stress on the spine, we can battle the natural, and recently accelerated, forward hunch.