We live in a digital era where everything is at the tip of your fingers. Just as the industrial revolution affected public health, with the explosion of hand held electronic devices, there is an ‘Electronic Epidemic of Pain.’ According to numerous studies people spend anywhere from 4-5 hours a day hunched over on their devices reading e-news, emails, texting, tweeting, surfing the web or checking social media sites. Though, ‘Text Neck’ is the buzzword, I prefer to use ‘Tech Neck’ as the condition not just pertaining to texting rather a general term which covers all hand held electronic gadgets and even a desktop.
Reading this, if you catch yourself slouching for ward with a poker chin, you could be a victim of Tech Neck. Though there are not enough researches showing the direct link between use of cell phones or tablets and neck pains, the healthcare industry strongly acknowledges the fact. In an upright posture, the ears must aligned with the center of shoulders with eyes parallel; the weight of average adult head experts approximates as 10-12 Lbs which is held in position through the cervical vertebrae and muscles of neck. The weight of head will dramatically increase approximately up to six times for every inch it moves from the neutral position. This is could be same weight as in average 8 year old or six ten-pin bowling ball (Neupane et.al. 2017).
From my clinical experience and research, most neck and back pains are not from accidents but are from the buildup of repetitive strain and over use (Bogduk 1997). When a constant force is left applied to soft tissue like muscles, ligaments and tendons for a prolonged period of time, further movements occurs (McKenzie & May 2006). This is like how we stretch a rubber band, if we won’t go beyond its elastic point and maintained for a prolonged period of time, it will recoil back but will be lengthened further than its original size and shape. This affects the integrity of the tissue makes it susceptible to failure. Depending upon the tissues and force applied, structures may be temporarily lengthened if loading is tensile, or compacted if loading is compressive (McKenzie & May 2006). In this way tissue may become susceptible to fatigue failure. The clinical importance of fatigue failure is that damage to tissue may occur without a trivial trauma.
Tech neck initially starts as a mere soreness in the neck muscles or in the upper back and or in the shoulder blades which relieves when the activity is disrupted. But when one start noticing that the pain is lingering and radiating to shoulder or arm and sometimes with headaches, needs attention. Since there is a mechanical cause for this kind of pain it must be treated mechanically – by correcting the poor postural habits, strengthening the weak and over stretched muscles, stretching the contracted soft tissues and by education and correcting the ergonomics not just at work but everywhere including home.
Ironically there are numerous wearable devices and apps available in market to alert the person when they are not in a good posture. Wearable devices like ‘Upright Pose’ or ‘Alex’ are gaining popularity in market. Same with app like ‘Text Neck’ which alert the user with a buzz or turning the indicator color to green and red depending upon the tilt the device has while reading. Again, as I mentioned in my previous blogs, Posture is a behavior and one has to put a conscious effort to maintain and retain it.
Static postures are the culprit, even in schools tech devices are on the rise yet there is no plan in place to educate future generation on ergonomic guidelines to prevent neck, upper, mid or lower back pain, headache and eye strain. So, Chin up techies!! Let’s all spread the word reaching the mass across in preventing the digital era affliction of – Cyber Slouch!!
N.B. Stay tuned for my next blog where we will be addressing ergonomic ways of handling tech devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
Sinju Thomas PT, DPT, OCS
CEO & Senior Physical Therapist