Tech Neck. It’s most certainly a modern-day problem that’s been created by a world where we are ruled by the screens of our smartphones and laptops.
Next time you are out for coffee or on the ferry to work, take a look around. My bet is the majority of people you see are staring down into the wonderful world of technology.
‘Tech Neck’ is by no means an actual ‘medical diagnosis’ but simply a name that some are giving to a pattern of neck and upper back pain that an increasing number of people seem to present to their health professional with.
Why is it called 'Tech Neck'?
I believe there are actually a few contributing factors. Let’s firstly consider human anatomy. In a neutral postural position, the head is naturally balanced on the cervical spine. The ears are positioned directly in line with the shoulders, the chest is open and the shoulders back.
The forward head posture that we adopt when we stare mindlessly down at our phone screens places a huge amount of extra pressure not only the spine but also the muscles around the neck and shoulders. As the head slants further forward the load on the cervical spine increases and the muscles work harder to counterbalance the weight of the head. Over time this can result in stiffness through the joints of the mid and upper back coupled with tight, tense bands of muscle around the neck and shoulders both of which can contribute to pain and dysfunction.
What are the symptoms of 'Teck Neck'?
A typical presentation patient may present with a few of the following:
• Upper back and neck pain that spans a broad area from the base of the neck out to the shoulders or can be localised to a single area such as between the shoulder blades or at the base of the neck.
• Postural observation may reveal a natural ‘poked’ head position with shoulders that are rolled forward. There may also be an increase in tone of the upper trapezius muscle which sits between the neck and shoulders.
• Reduced mobility of the neck
Every case will vary in terms of severity. For some, it’s more of a nagging pain that can change in intensity throughout the day while for others it’s a constant pain that interrupts their ability to focus and be productive.
Many may disagree with me but I don’t believe that ‘poor posture’ is single-handedly to blame for the many cases of neck and upper back pain that I see come through my physio practise. It certainly can be a contributor but it’s important to consider the role that factors such as lack of adequate sleep, lack of physical activity and high levels of stress, be it physical or emotional, can also play in driving this pattern of pain. Addressing all of these aspects with neck pain sufferers is integral to their overall management.
On that note what can be done?
A session with a physiotherapist will generally involve a variety of manual techniques such as soft tissue massage, dry needling/acupuncture and joint mobilisation which can assist in alleviating pain and relieving muscle spasm in the short term. To address neck pain in the long term there needs to be a discussion about posture, work environment and lifestyle factors such as those mentioned above combined with specific strategies to target the individual's specific needs; for example, postural strengthening, self-massage techniques and mobility work may be required.
If you're suffering from neck and upper back pain I would recommend you book in and see your physio. Get an understanding of not only why you have the pain but what you can be doing to ensure the pain stays away for good!