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Tech Neck – The Posture of Pain and Dysfunction

Not so long ago, we walked upright. Our eyes scanned our surroundings as we made our way through our environment and our reflexes and observational skills were sharp. Recently however, we have adopted a new posture and way of interacting with others – not so much in person, but through our devices. Add up the hours spent in our office jobs, driving, reading, playing video games, even cleaning and preparing meals, you will realize that we spend most of our waking day in a head down position.

The terms “text neck” and ‘tech neck” are familiar and we can all agree, it is not our best look. It is responsible for cervical kyphosis (neck hump) and the repercussions of spending hours in the head-forward and chin-down position can result in more than just neck pain. In this posture we are less efficient at carrying our 8-13 lb. head, and limits neck range of motion. A posture of 15º of neck flexion (head forward and looking down) adds 27 lbs of weight. 30º adds 40 lbs, 45º adds 49-50 lbs, and 60º adds 60 lbs of weight on your cervical spine (aka neck), which is the thinnest part of your vertebral column.

When our heads are flexed forward and down, our line of vision also becomes limited. Our brain receives light through our eyes and produces serotonin which makes us alert and ready for complex information processing. Our brains were designed to turn on information processing centers as the daylight increases from when we wake up and as the sunlight dims, our brain prepares for rest and sleep by producing melatonin. Think about how foggy one feels when we are sleepy or when we spend too much time in a dimly lit environment. Light deprivation shuts down higher centers of learning and problem-solving.

Posture is to a body what proper scaffolding is to a skyscraper. The physics of carrying our heads and our shoulders affects how efficient we are at moving as we walk, sit to work and drive. Tech Neck makes it easier to slouch and affects the efficiency of our breathing, sending less oxygen to our brain. It is infamous for creating those painful knots between our shoulder blades known as trigger points.

Tech neck posture stresses our spinal cord (the tubular brain) as it was not meant to be stretched. We are compressing nerves that start from our neck that control movement and sensation in shoulders, arms and hands. Many patients who are referred to therapy or for orthopedic consults due to symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may be originating from cervical nerve compression which is not only painful, it can also diminish hand strength and dexterity. Carpal tunnel surgeries can fail when the origin of the problem is in the neck and not addressed first.

If you are experiencing the consequences of Tech Neck, it’s important to know that you can reverse some of those symptoms by practicing good posture daily. An occupational therapist can provide sound therapeutic interventions that integrate all body systems with hands-on therapies including ergonomics, daily stretches and strengthening exercises. Even when surgery is recommended, pre-surgery occupational therapy can greatly improve outcomes and shorten down-time so you can get back to living life pain-free!

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