• Dr. Clint Woo, DPT, PT

Neck Pain (tech neck) and Physical Therapy: Posture, Strength, and Flexility Time!

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Neck pain (cervicalgia) is an increasingly common issue especially for this day and age. While posture-dependent neck pain has always been an issue, "tech neck" is the new term for a common cause of neck pain. "Tech neck" refers to the increased tendency of a forward head posture as the use of technology has increased dramatically for all ages and occupations. The head is said to be somewhere around 12 pounds whose weight goes "through the spine" as it sits nicely on top for a person with good posture. When you have a forward head position to say, look at a screen, the 12 pound head has now increased by 3-4x on your neck! Can you imagine trying to suddenly lift 4x the amount of groceries that you are accustomed to? Good luck! I use an analogy on another articles of mine where if you hold a baby close to you, its not that bad, but if you hold the baby out at arm's reach, the baby is suddenly VERY heavy!

We naturally move our heads forward for a variety of reasons. First, is that it brings our eyes physically closer to our target and thus able to read easier whether it is a screen or a book (it doesn't have to be digital)! Second, the head in a forward position can hang on the ligaments and other structures so there is less of an effort involved on your part. Third, since the average person has terrible posture, you almost stand out when your sit/stand perfectly straight so you may feel uncomfortable from a psychological stand point. All of these reasons are understandable (or at least relatable), but in the end, it is your neck that takes the punishment for poor posture!

Over time, tech neck can have more structural changes as any joint that is not taken through its normal range will lose some of that range. If a neck is used to constantly being forward for years, it will physical resist being brought back into a "chin tucked" position! This forward head position can also encourage discs to slip, nerves to get pinched, and joints to get inflamed. Stretching in a safe manner under supervision can be an excellent method to getting back that good posture for the neck.

Strengthening is another factor your PT may address. If the muscle for keeping your head back in a retracted position haven't been used, then they will struggle for the first few weeks that you try to correct your posture! Thus addressing those weakness will make it easier and easier to sit/stand correctly.

We understand that simply saying "well stop looking at a screen" is not an option for those whose jobs revolve around a computer. At the same time, the above mentioned tips under the guidance of a PT can bring your neck back to a state that it hasn't been for several years if done right! Our suggestion is to seek a physical therapist who can assess how to best progress you strength, range of motion, and posture to prevent neck pain or help recover from it!

As a disclaimer, this blog post isn’t intended as professional clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, consider contacting us at Woo Physical Therapy and Wellness to evaluated.

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