It seems ironic that this blog, about the perils of spending long periods of time using technology, is being written on a laptop! But with technology being such a huge part of our everyday lives, we thought it was an important topic to explore.
A recent report by Ofcom, the communications regulator, revealed that UK adults spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes per day using media devices. This is really put into context when we compare this to the eight hours and 21 minutes we spend sleeping… can we really be spending twenty minutes more per day using technology than sleeping?
Television, smart phone, radio, tablet, laptop, game devices, smart watch… the technology really adds up! These hours spent texting, chatting, typing, gaming and watching are having an impact on our health in many ways. Just this week the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised 'Gaming Disorder', where individuals become addicted to computer games, as a new disease. This is really scary stuff!
Spending so much time sitting down in front of screens is contributing to the rise in obesity and the chance of developing type two diabetes. It also means that we are adopting unnatural postures which can lead to stiffness and pain. From slouching on the sofa when watching the television to the “chin on your chest” position we use when on our phones, we could be unknowingly worsening our health.
What is ‘Tech Neck’?
‘Tech Neck’ is a condition where individuals suffer neck / upper back pain due to the postural changes associated with increased use of electronic devices; most commonly iPhones, iPads and laptops.
The postures adopted while using these gadgets, especially for a prolonged period of time, causes an increase in the amount of tension placed upon the spine.
By spending too much time looking down towards our devices we are actually reducing the inwards curvature of the neck. Why is this important, you may ask? The inwards 'lordotic' curve of the neck allows it to act as a shock absorber, equally spreading pressure through the spine rather than all on one area. By reducing or even reversing this curvature, stresses build up on tissues which cannot cope, leading to injury and pain.
How does using electronic devices lead to neck pain?
Poor posture leads to unequal distribution of load on the spine and over time will lead to joint pain and muscular tension. When you next pick up your phone to send a text message or go to browse Facebook look to see how you are sitting. You will find that:
1) You will tuck your chin towards your chest.
2) Your head will move forward.
3) Your shoulders will start to round.
Adopting this posture causes the supportive muscles of the neck to fatigue and weaken. The muscles can no longer effectively support the joints, spinal discs and nerves in the neck and the chance of suffering an injury significantly increases.
When we are looking forward and the head is kept in the ideal, neutral position, the weight of the average head is 10-12lbs (4.5-5kg). Just look at the image below to see how as little as a 15 degree change can make a big difference!
This increased forward leaning position causes tightness of the muscles through the chest and front of the neck while causing weakness in the muscles under the chin and in between the shoulder blades. This causes our posture to progressively worsen. Poorer posture = weaker stabalisation muscles = further postural deterioration. A very vicious cycle!
Recognise the symptoms
'Tech neck' can result in an ache in your neck spreading downwards towards the shoulder blades, tightness in the base of the skull and even pins and needles or numbness into the arms. Certain types of headache can also start to develop.
Depending on which device you use and when, you may notice a pattern of when your symptoms worsen. For instance, if you have an office job spending lots of time on a computer, your pain may worsen over the week but ease at the weekend when you are more active.
Conversely, you may find that during the weekend you have more spare time to play computer games or browse the internet on your phone so may suffer more during your time off.
What can I do?
Alter your environment
Making small changes such as a supportive work chair, sitting upright in an armchair rather than lying on the sofa, or introducing a new habit of stretching and walking around during add breaks could make all the difference. Aiming to keep the device that you are using at eye level is also a great place to start.
Change your attitude towards technology
We know that it is unrealistic to ask people to do a technology-detox; our devices are so engrained in to our daily living. But perhaps we can change the way we think about our technology use. Consider how we view sugary desserts; an indulgent treat which can be enjoyed as part of a varied diet and alongside exercise. Can we think of technology in the same way… as something to be enjoyed in moderation alongside an active lifestyle?
Make technology work for you
Another idea is to use the fantastic tools offered by technology to improve your health, rather than damage it. Your smart phone likely has a pedometer built in to count the steps you do each day, or can easily be paired with a watch with similar functions. Audio books, which can be downloaded cheaply and simply, are an excellent way to get your technology hit whilst on the go – learn a new language, listen to an autobiography or get hooked by the latest crime-thriller while finding the Jamie Oliver in yourself as you cook up a culinary masterpiece!
Are there any stretches that I can do?
Every patient at Cedar Tree is unique in their postural imbalances and injuries; therefore, all of our rehab programmes are specific to the individual. However, here are three of our favourite stretches to reduce the chance of suffering Tech Neck:
Get help sooner rather than later
When an issue arises from poor posture, the muscles around an aggravated joint will tighten to protect the area. Over time, this tightness can pull a spinal joint further out of alignment and worsen the problem. Chiropractic adjustments will realign the joints of the spine and allow the muscles to relax and return to a normal tone. Seeing your chiropractor earlier will reduce the number of treatments you will need and mean a faster recovery! Your chiropractor will also be able to help you improve any postural imbalances via rehabilitative exercises to reduce the chance of the issue reoccurring in the future.