In our technology driven society, we tend to underestimate the toll of using a “device” has on neck and back health. With over 80% of people having smartphones and a growing number of societies with desk bound occupations, the number of cases of upper back and neck pain has significantly increased.

Have you taken time to look at your posture whilst you are scrolling through social media on your smart phone or typing on your computer? Forward head sway in combination with rolled shoulders and a slouched back are the most common presentations seen. Over time, these factors can cause significant pressure to the joints and muscles in your neck and upper back. This can lead to a variety of symptoms ranging from generalised tension and stiffness, to severe pain and headaches.

So why is forward head sway a bad thing?

Our spine is designed to have curves with different angles in distinctive areas in order to minimize loading through vertebrae and prevent any excessive shearing in certain areas. When the head and neck translate forwards and the shoulders roll inwards overtime, it changes the angle of the curve in the neck. This results in different loading patterns, leading to excessive pressure through structures in the neck. An average head weighs approximately 10-12 pounds in the neutral position. Recent empirical research has elaborated that as the head tilts forward, the forces seen by the neck surge to 27 pounds at 15 degrees and 49 pounds at 45 degrees (Hansraj, 2014). This is more than 3 times the amount of force! It has additionally been deduced that prolonged exposure to these forces can lead to permanent changes in spinal curvature resulting in an increased risk of degeneration and the development of osteoarthritis (Katzman et al., 2010; Sheer et al., 2013).

So, what can you do to prevent this?

Correct your posture

Simple changes such as holding your smart-phone at eye level will help avoid thee head tilting forwards and keep your neck aligned.

Below are several simple alterations you can make to your daily sitting posture to help reduce unwanted pressure or tension through your spine, muscles and joints.

  • Head should be balanced, not leaning forwards.
  • Arms relaxed by your side
  • Forearms parallel to the desk
  • Sit back in the chair to ensure good back support
  • Screen approximately an arms’ length away from you
  • Top screen about eye level
  • Space behind the knee
  • Feet flat on the floor or on a foot-rest

Take regular breaks

The spine can withstand sitting for approximately 20 minutes prior to increased pressure absorption from the inter-vertebral discs. This is why we recommend posture breaks every 20-30 minutes for individuals with desk-bound occupations. These breaks will aid in lengthening contracted muscles and trigger inactive muscles to switch on.

Seek professional advice

If you find that your neck pain, back pain, headaches or shoulder tension are becoming more frequent despite making changes to your posture, it’s a good idea to get properly assessed. Recent empirical research has determined that osteopathic manipulative treatment as well as physical therapy is effective for chronic neck and back pain (8,9). In addition to this, The National Institute of Clinical Evidence (NICE) Guidelines recommend manual therapy such as osteopathy for management back pain (10).

Dr Curtis is an osteopath who specialises in treating and managing a wide variety of different joint and muscular problems. So, if you find yourself struggling with the dreaded “Tech Neck” and feel the need for professional advice, get in touch with the clinic to arrange an appointment.

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