Using mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices can lead to a chronic pain condition known as tech neck.
The prevalence of technology is leading to what’s known as tech neck, chronic pain that results from prolonged use of mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices, according to spine specialists from the UT Southwestern Medical Center.
According to UT Southwestern, Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their mobile phones and even more hours staring at laptops and computer screens. The repetitive strain on the bones, nerves, and muscles caused by looking down at a device can result in muscle stiffness, joint inflammation, pinched nerves, arthritis, and even bone spurs or herniated discs.
“Humans are upright creatures, and our bodies aren’t designed to look down for long periods of time, which puts extra pressure on the cervical spine,” said Kavita Trivedi, DO, associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and associate medical director of the Spine Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
The typical adult head weighs 10-12 pounds, but bending it forward at a 45-degree angle – not unusual when looking at a cellphone – increases the force on the neck to nearly 50 pounds.
“With repetition, that force can strain or injure the facet joints that connect our vertebrae,” said Trivedi. “When that happens, the surrounding muscles naturally tighten up to protect nearby nerves, which leads to inflammation, pain, and knots in your neck – what is often referred to as tech neck.”.
The UTSW Spine Center’s multidisciplinary team specializes in comprehensive care for patients with all levels of neck pain, including tech neck.
Nonsurgical treatments include medication and physical therapy, trigger point and steroid injections, nerve blocks, and minimally invasive techniques such as radiofrequency ablation. The center’s surgeons also offer advanced techniques if surgery is the best option to relieve pain and restore function.
“The good news is that most patients with tech neck don’t require surgery, and we have a wide range of therapies that can be very effective. There’s no need to live with pain if it can be treated,” said Trivedi.
For those without neck pain, some steps can be taken to guard against it. According to Trivedi, holding your phone at eye level as much as possible can reduce the strain on your neck and prevent future issues.
“Our phones and tablets are valuable tools, and there’s no need to give them up,” said Trivedi. “The solution is to learn how to prevent tech neck while using these devices, and if pain develops, see a specialist who can help.”