Have you ever felt a strain in your neck or stiffness in your shoulder area? Do you have pain in your neck area that doesn't seem to go away? Your gadgets could be the ones to blame.

Most of us are staring at a screen for most of the day, whether it's a mobile phone, a tablet or a laptop. And while we have always been told to pay attention to our posture while sitting at a work desk to protect our back, we should also worry about how we position our head when using mobile devices. You could also be hunched over a laptop when working from home, which could make the pain worse.

The amount of time we spend bending our head to look at a screen could lead to issues in our neck. This is known as 'tech neck'.


What is 'tech neck'?

Tech neck is also known as 'text neck' and that term was coined by American chiropractor Dr. Dean Fishman.

Dr Lim Yee Gen, Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital, says that tech neck is a term used to describe neck pain that is associated with repetitive strain and injury to the neck caused by usage of modern mobile technologies, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.

It comes as no surprise that there are millions of people dealing with tech neck and they come from all walks of life, everywhere in the world, as mobile phone and tablet usage stretches to every corner of the globe.

Globally, the average person spends three hours and 15 minutes a day on their phone. And one in five smartphone users are scrolling through their devices for more than four-and-a-half hours a day. In Singapore, we spend an average of three hours and 38 minutes a day on our smartphones.


Why does looking at a mobile device cause neck strain?

A 2019 study showed “a significant positive correlation between the duration of mobile phone use and the duration and severity of neck pain”.

“As a lot of us spend long hours daily hanging our head forward and down looking at our mobile device, the muscle on the back of the neck has to contract to hold up our head,” Dr Lim explains. “The lower we hang our head the more our muscle needs to work to hold up our head. As a result, our neck muscle becomes tired and sore.”

Your neck takes the brunt of this strain. On average, an adult's head weighs around 5kg and the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons support it. However, when you tilt your head forward when working on a computer or look down at a mobile device, your head's weight causes extra stress on your neck. The muscles in the back of your neck have to contract to hold your head up. This then causes pain in the back of your neck.

There could be as much as 25kg of force on your neck, which it isn't built to withstand – and certainly not for hours at a time. The strain that the muscles and ligaments around your neck feel is then manifested as pain. And the more you crane your neck, the more weight it has to carry, thus the more pain you'll feel.


Symptoms of tech neck



Dr Lim says that tech neck can be progressive if we persist to spend long hours on our mobile devices. Initially, symptoms are related to inflammation of the muscles and ligaments such as:

  • Generalised aches in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
  • Localised sharp pain in the neck.
  • Pain can also be referred to in the back and top of the head, so some may experience headaches.                                                  

Tech neck could also lead to posture problems in the long run. This is because prolonged straining of your neck can cause your neck muscles to lengthen and your chest muscles to shorten. The result is increased spinal pressure in your neck. Once your posture gets worse, the symptoms associated with tech neck will also be more severe.

Dr Alex Teo, Associate Consultant, University Spine Centre, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, National University Hospital, says you should consult a doctor if you have any pain that shoots down your arm, any numbness in your arms or legs, or if you start to notice you are getting clumsier with your hands or unsteady when you are walking. “You should see a doctor too when the pain persists despite modifying your activities and taking simple painkillers,” he adds.


What to do to avoid tech neck 

1) Don't look down

Hold your phone or tablet at eye level so that it doesn't put any strain on your neck. And when using a computer, place your screen high enough so that you're looking straight ahead rather than down or up. If you spend many hours at work looking at a computer screen, try using a standing desk.

2) Take breaks

We are built to be upright creatures so should be in that position as much as we can. When using a mobile device, take breaks every 15 minutes so that your neck can be back in its intended position. If you're using a laptop, walk away from your desk every 30 minutes to stretch your muscles. You can set reminders on your phone so that you won't forget even when you're too engrossed with work or scrolling through apps.

3) Get the right posture

Do exercises such as yoga and pilates as they focus on having the right posture. Once you get into the habit of doing these exercises, you'll automatically pay more attention to your posture and not let your devices get in the way.




Exercises To Combat Tech Neck

1) Roll your shoulders back

Whether you're at work or lazing on the couch with your smartphone, roll your shoulders up and back as you shift your head back to keep your muscles moving.

 2) Lift off!

Lie face down on the floor with your arms by your side. Lift your chin, arms and knees slightly off the floor, while keeping your neck straight (ie. don't look up). Hold this position for two or three seconds then release and repeat.

 3) Chin tuck

Tuck your chin towards your chest. Your eyes should still be looking straight ahead. Hold this position for three to five seconds, then repeat. You can do this while standing or seated.

4) Neck flex

Place your hand on the back of your head then pull your head towards your chest, while you're standing or sitting. Once you feel a stretch at the back of your neck, hold this position for around 20 seconds. Repeat a few times.

5) Aerobic exercises

Go for a jog or a swim, use a stationary bicycle or just walk at a brisk pace. Doing such exercises will ease the tension on the back of your neck. Bonus: it'll get your heart rate up and keep you healthier too.


With the right exercises and healthy habits, we can avoid tech neck while still enjoying our mobile devices!