I can’t recall a time that my neck and shoulders felt good. My family bought our first computer in middle school and, after a teen debate with my parents, we got a cell-phone in high school. By my calculations, my posture has been a mess since about 25 years.
My neck pain became unbearable in my 20s when I started spending most of my day bent over a computer. I would sneak out of my office and go to a nail salon nearby to get a 10-to-15-minute neck and shoulders massage for about $1 per minute. It was life-changing. But in recent years, I’ve accepted that 1) I can’t afford to spend that much money; and 2) neck strain is a normal part of life, just like eating, sleeping, and breathing.
If you can relate to this, it’s likely that we both have “tech neck,” which is a painful musculoskeletal condition caused by the chronic stress on necks from looking down at devices and poor posture. Up to 40% of people are estimated to suffer from neck pain that is caused by scrolling down, texting or typing. This pain can be dull and achy or sharp and throbbing. It can be localized to the neck, or travel down your back and even reach your shoulders.
Erich Anderer MD, chief neurosurgeon at NYU Langone Hospital Brooklyn, explains to SELF that your spine is a delicate interplay between bones, soft tissues, and ligaments. This can easily go out of balance, especially if you are glued to a device all day. Dr. Anderer explains that your head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. When you tilt it downward (like you do when you text), you put pressure on your neck. “When you have strain on your neck, or anything else that throws your alignment out of balance,” he says, it can manifest as pain.
Dr. Anderer says that neck strain may seem inevitable depending on how addicted you are to your devices (I speak for myself). But most people who suffer from tech neck can find relief by using a few simple techniques. Here are four to try.
Reset your posture
Most tech-neck advice is centered around correcting posture. It’s a good thing (after all, the complication of tech neck stems from constantly looking at devices), but it’s not realistic to sit up straight all day with your head directly above your spine. Dr. Anderer explains that “our lives are set up to encourage this bad ergonomic posture.” If you work on a factory floor or at a desk for example, there’s no good position to keep your neck in all day.
This is to say: Do not beat yourself up for having bad posture most of the time. We’re all in the same boat. If you suddenly realize that you are hunched like a gargoyle while doing your thing, it may be helpful to reset yourself. A 2021 study found that changing your posture and moving around can help reduce neck discomfort.
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