DALLAS — Americans love their high-tech toys. But today's smart devices may not be so brilliant when it comes to your neck.
"I'd catch myself doing this, even when I wasn't doing anything," said Patricia Granowski as she hunched over. "And then the pain gets so severe down here and to my rhomboid. I can feel it in my hips."
It got so bad, the 40-something graduate student sought help for the medical condition now known as "tech neck."
"What happens is, all the muscles in the front of the neck become short and tight," explained Dr. Jeff Manning, a chiropractor at the Manning Wellness Clinic in Dallas. "The ones in the back become stretched out and also tight. You start to get pressure on the discs, and ultimately pressure on the nerves in the neck from the postural changes."
Dr. Manning said hunching over electronic devices actually changes the spine.
"Over time, the curve straightens out and reverses when you're constantly looking down," he said. "That can cause a lot of pain."
Eleven-year-old Kamille Galloway recognizes the problem. "If I ever had my neck bent down, it would start to feel sore," the sixth-grader said.
A growing number of children who spend hours texting and playing video games are now being diagnosed with tech nech. With treatment, both Kamille Galloway and Patricia Granowski are feeling better.
But since neither are likely to quit their devices, experts recommend using electronics with heads held high — not stooped over.
Reducing or preventing handheld device-related pain
- Limit the amount of time and frequency that you use your device.
- If you have to use it for an extended period of time, take breaks.
- Rule of thumb: Take a five-minute break for every 15 minutes you use your device, and don’t type for more than three minutes straight.
- Get up and walk around to stretch your muscles.
- One simple exercise is to tilt your head to one side (ear to shoulder) then to the other side, back to neutral, turn to look all the way to the right, then left. Back to neutral, then lean head back and back to neutral. Do all without raising shoulders.
- Don’t stretch forward; this only accentuates the poor posture you are trying to avoid.
- Do it slowly, without straining. Repeat.
- Be aware of your posture.
- Pay attention to how you hold your device. Try to keep your wrists straight and upright. Loosen your grip when possible.
- Alternate the fingers you use to type; if you most often use your thumbs, try to switch to your index finger as it lets you keep the hands more relaxed.
- Use a tablet holder: There are many on the market, but all have the common goal of securing the tablet at a height that is designed to reduce your need to keep your head bent down and forward.
- Keeping your device at eye-level will help to reduce neck pain and possible damage. It can also prevent what is know as “text-neck” or head-forward posture.
- Listen to your body: If you are experiencing pain in your neck, back, shoulders, or had or suffer eye strain, pay attention. Those aches and pains have a source, and in this case, it may be technology.
- Overuse of handheld devices can also exacerbate an existing or old injury so be aware of what you are feeling.
- Don’t’ fall into the trap of, "If I ignore it, maybe it will go away."
- Seek help: If you are experiencing discomfort, don’t wait, seek professional help.