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How to Avoid Tech Neck

You may love your digital devices, but your neck may not. Try these five strategies to help avoid pain and stiffness.

spinner image male body showing bones and muscles anatomy in an incorrect posture holding a mobile phone and looking down at the device screen which strains the neck and can cause a problem called text neck or tech neck
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When you spend hours scrolling on your digital device on a couch, you are likely holding your head forward and down. It is a position that the neck can manage for a while, but if you do it too long and repeatedly, the brain and body may protest with pain.

Physical therapists call this posture tech neck: the term for a repetitive strain injury to the neck’s ligaments and muscles caused by spending long periods looking down at a digital device with the head tilted forward.

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“Your head is essentially supposed to be between your shoulders,” says Los Angeles physical therapist Sarah Court, who is also cohost of the podcast Movement Logic. “Every time you bring it forward, your neck is rounding, and while that position in itself isn’t a problem, it can become one.”

The head weighs, on average, between 10 and 11 pounds, and when it stays forward for long periods, it leads to uneven distribution of load along the spine. Older adults are at risk of negative effects from tech neck because, with age, the body loses muscle mass and bone density. The forward position of the head can exacerbate degeneration of spinal discs, leading to pinched nerves and a reduction in the ability to turn the head left and right, Court says.

Many people have been advised to turn to ergonomic strategies to prevent tech neck, such as buying a stand for a phone to place on a table to keep the screen at eye level or a chair that encourages the head to stay in alignment with the shoulders over the hips. Inevitably, however, most people will still end up rounding their head forward when they are in front of a computer or phone screen.

“People have the best intentions and may start in a really good position,” Court says, “and then 45 minutes later realize they’re slumped forwards. They’re not able to maintain it because it’s tiring to hold the body still, even in a good position, for a long time.”

What works better for preventing and responding to tech neck is adding in a mix of movements throughout the day to counter the forward movement of the neck, physical therapists say. Movement, in general, encourages bones to remain strong and strengthens muscles up and down the spine; it hydrates connective tissue and reduces stiffening in the whole body.

“You have to think about sitting like it’s a sport,” says Katy Bowman, a Carlsborg, Washington, biomechanist and author of the new book Rethink Your Position. “You are using your body to do something for six to eight hours a day and so anything you can do to improve mobility and muscle endurance will help you sit better with less pain.”

If you are going to be in front of a computer or using your mobile technology for hours, here are five ideas of movements and strategies to prevent tech neck:

1. Create nudges to take mini-breaks from stillness

Changing your habits can be hard, especially if you get lost in scrolling on social media. Reminders can help. Set a kitchen timer or your digital device timer for every 30 minutes to an hour as a nudge to change the position of your head and body. Stand up and walk around for one minute. Move to a different spot in the room. If getting out of the chair isn’t possible, spend one minute fidgeting in the seat, Bowman says.

2. Stretch

During the break, counter the forward movement of the head by reaching both arms overhead. Imagine there is a rope hanging from the ceiling and try to climb the rope, alternately reaching one arm over the other for a minute. Try these neck exercises for more stretching ideas.


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3. Strengthen neck muscles

Court recommends that people keep their heads in a neutral position as much as possible and practice pressing the back of their heads against the wall to strengthen neck muscles.  

4. Do a five-minute workout

You don’t have to go to the gym for an hour; stand up from the chair and move. A growing body of research shows that brief bouts of exercise have broad health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health and a reduction in muscle loss, stress and all-cause mortality. Try one of these fun and simple exercise videos.

5. Use your digital devices in different positions

Take your phone call while aligning the head and neck against the wall. Use audiobooks instead of reading on the device, or use dictation instead of texting with your fingers, Bowman says.

“We need a better physical relationship with how we use our technology,” she says. “Shift your position. We need a variety of movements all day long.”

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