Over the past decade, the increased use of smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices has resulted in more and more people becoming slumped over from spending inordinate amounts of time looking down to check email Surf the Internet, play games, or use social media.
This forward-facing head position can put additional strain on the neck and middle back and increase the risk of pain in these areas. This is nothing new to anyone. However, is it possible that the same devices could be used to treat neck pain?
In 2017, researchers conducted a study using a smartphone app designed for office workers with neck pain. Based on users’ responses to questions about the nature of their neck pain, the app provided a custom neck exercise program to be used for 10 to 12 minutes a day, three days a week for eight weeks. At the end of the program, participants reported a significant improvement in the intensity and disability of neck pain and an improved quality of life. However, the app did not appear to improve anxiety avoidance behavior or the range of motion of the cervical spine.
An experiment conducted in 2020 with an app that encourages self-management of neck pain through stretching and deep breathing exercises found that this approach led to improvements in pain intensity, muscle tension, pressure pain threshold, and cervical range of motion.
Since there is a wealth of research showing that neck-specific exercises can help patients with neck pain, these results are not very surprising. However, apps can remind users to do their exercises and track their progress, which is important as compliance with the exercise protocol is often an issue.
For those with neck pain who are unable to manage their condition with exercise alone, chiropractic care can be an excellent choice. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose the causes of a patient’s mechanical neck pain and perform manual therapies to restore movement to the affected joints, which can reduce pain and disability. Treatment may also include dietary recommendations to aid the healing process and prescribe specific exercises to strengthen weakened deep neck muscles and reduce the risk of neck pain recurring.
Although devices have become a part of life and advice about limiting screen time goes unnoticed, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of device-related neck pain.
For example, avoid looking down when using an electronic device. Instead, keep it at eye level so you can maintain good posture. In addition, you should exercise regularly, as the stress of movement is the way the joints in the body (including those in the neck) are nourished and hydrated. Because mild inflammation in the body can increase the risk of neck pain, you should sleep a lot, manage stress, and eat more fruits and vegetables (and fewer processed foods).
If you have any questions about which neck-specific exercises might make the most sense in your individual case, ask your chiropractic doctor on your next visit.
Jason Hoisington is a chiropractor in Faribault and a member of the Chiro Trust.