You don’t need us to tell you that looking down at your phone for hours a day strains your neck and upper back — pain is an excellent teacher. What you may not realize is that it’s a surprisingly easy problem to fix. All you have to do is 1) change up your posture to keep your head directly above your shoulders and 2) start holding your phone at eye level.
Scroll down to see four ways to do exactly that. Or keep reading to learn more about why looking down wreaks havoc on your neck, back, and even your chest and shoulders.
Why Tilting Your Head Down Leads to “Tech Neck”
Imagine that you’re holding ropes attached to a boulder that’s perched on the edge of a cliff (stay with us). As long as the majority of the boulder’s weight is on the cliff, it stays in place pretty much on its own. But if that boulder rolls over the edge of the cliff, even the slightest bit, the ropes will become taut and you’ll have to put in extra effort to keep it from falling. The further the boulder tips over the edge, the harder you have to work.
Similarly, for every degree forward that you tilt your head, the ligaments and muscles in your neck and upper back have to work harder to support its weight.
Research shows that the average head weighs 10-12 pounds, but when you bend your neck forward just 30 degrees, the relative weight of your head comes closer to 40 pounds. Bend it forward 60 degrees, and it’s as if your head weighs a hefty 60 pounds — that's the average weight of a female Golden Retriever.
Sure, your neck can handle a certain amount of downward gazing each day, but it was not designed to support a Golden Retriever for hours at a time.
Here are a handful of things that can happen when you regularly look down at your phone (or anything else) for hours a day:
- The ligaments throughout the neck and upper back are strained
- The muscles in the front of the neck and chest become shorter and weaker
- The muscles holding up your neck from the back are overworked
- Nerves in the spine become irritated, causing pain or altered sensation in your arms and hands
Over time, this can translate to serious pain, strain, and injury including:
- Disc compression and herniations
- Pinched nerves
- Shortness of breath and respiratory dysfunction
- Early arthritis
- Reduction in peristaltic function (the process by which food passes through and out of your digestive tract)
Of course, you’re going to spend time looking down – there’s no avoiding it. But by reducing how often you do it, you can lessen the strain on your back and neck and help prevent the negative effects listed above.
How to FIX "TECH NECK"
Start by getting your neck in better alignment:
- Sit or stand tall. Imagine that a floating balloon is attached to the top of your skull, gently pulling it upward.
- Aim to keep your ears in line with your shoulders to prevent your head from jutting forward.
- Bring your chin in towards your chest a bit, aligning your ears with your shoulders (avoid tucking your chin or looking down as you do this).
Bring balance to your shoulders and back:
- Release your shoulders down away from your ears, without allowing them to slump forward (check by looking at yourself sideways in the mirror).
- Create slight tension between the shoulder blades to open the chest.
Avoid straining your wrists:
- Keep your hands in line with your forearms. Ideally, your wrist should not be bent in any way when you hold your phone.
Bring your phone up to eye level:
- Raise your phone so that that the top 1-2 inches of your screen are level with your eyes, that way you don’t have to tilt your head up or down to look at it.
4 Postures tHat HElp Prevent Tech NEck
The following four postures make it easy to keep your body in proper alignment.
1. Seated in a Chair with an Armrest
In this position, your back is resting comfortably against a chair and your elbow is propped up on the armrest. Depending on the height of your armrest, you may need to put a pillow under your elbow to raise your phone to the right level.
2. Standing with a self-supported elbow
If you’re standing up, try using one arm across your rib cage to create a shelf that you can prop your elbow on. Adust the height of your “shelf” until your phone is right in front of your eyes.
3. Seated with elbows on knees
If you have a wall, couch, or other heavy object to lean back against, you can put this posture to good use.
4. Seated with elbows on a table or desk
Instead of leaving your phone on your desk and leaning over it, prop your elbows on the surface and raise your phone up to eye level, keeping your ears above your shoulders.
What to do if your neck is already aching
Don’t wait to connect with physical therapist to evaluate your neck pain. PTs are experts in healing chronic pain and strain, and can guide you toward ergonomic, functional movements that keep your body in balance. Most patients start feeling better as soon as after one visit.
In the meantime, check out these exercises to strengthen your neck and begin to undo the damage of downward gazing.