Despite its catchy name, tech neck is a nuisance. And despite seeming like a modern problem thanks to mobile phones, tablets, and computers dominating much of our lives, the condition tech neck describes has been around for a while. It essentially refers to neck pain that results from continuous strain on the cervical spine. Find out how tech neck happens, what changes we can make to reduce tech neck, and how massage can help.
If you’ve ever been casually scrolling through social media only to notice your neck feels stiff or achy, you may be experiencing tech neck. Characterized by pain, stiffness, soreness, and inflammation, tech neck is a chronic condition caused by constant prolonged slouching. The symptoms of tech neck (sometimes called “text neck”) are typically mild in the early stages, but worsen over time, especially if you participate in activities that keep your neck in an unnaturally bent position for long periods of time like texting and scrolling while hunched over electronic devices.
Symptoms of tech neck include:
The human body is not designed to look down for long periods of time. After all, the typical adult head weighs 10-12 pounds, but extending it forward at a 45-degree angle, which is not unusual when looking at a mobile phone, increases the amount of force on the neck to around 50 pounds.
While spending too much time hunched over our screens can certainly cause or exacerbate this problem, so can reading a book in the wrong position or driving for long periods of time. According to John S. Michaels, MD, an expert in interventional pain medicine, prolonged screen time can also lead to the deconditioning of muscles in your neck, chest, and upper back, which makes it difficult to maintain good posture, exacerbating the symptoms of tech neck.
The issues associated with tech neck can be especially damaging to young people. According to a 2021 study, children and adolescents spend an estimated five to seven hours a day on their smartphones and handheld devices with their heads bent forward to read and text. The cumulative effects of this exposure reach “alarming results” of excess stress on the cervical spine area, ranging from an average of 1,825 to 2,555 hours a year. And the long-term complications of this excess stress can be disastrous. This study on musculoskeletal neck pain in children and adolescents found that increased stresses on the cervical spine can lead to cervical degeneration along with other developmental, medical, psychological, and social complications, including disability and lower quality of life.
Massage therapy can be a highly effective method to relieve the discomfort of tech neck by helping to relax muscles, tendons, and ligaments that have become tightened and strained. Staring at a screen for long periods of time causes muscles to contract, often leading to compressed or “pinched” nerves; applying massage to these areas helps to free up these nerves by gently manipulating the soft tissues around them. Here are some other ways massage helps to relieve tech neck.
Massage increases blood and lymph circulation, transporting more oxygen and nutrients into your muscles, which helps to relieve tension and pain. This can be facilitated with the application of heat. According to the Spine Institute of North America, heat therapy helps to reduce muscle stiffness associated with chronic pain by aiding blood flow and circulation.
One of the main symptoms of tech neck is decreased range of motion. Massage corrects this by increasing muscle tissue elasticity. When massage is performed, friction increases temperature and local blood circulation. This causes muscle fibers to stretch and relax, leading to better movement and flexibility.
Endorphins are a group of hormones secreted in the brain and nervous system, which activate the body’s opiate receptors, helping to reduce pain and discomfort. Research has indicated massage relieves pain while increasing feelings of “warmth and well-being” lasting for about one hour after treatment. Other studies show that cervical spine manipulation also helps to release endorphins and other feel-good hormones like neurotensin, oxytocin, and orexin in those with neck pain.
While banishing screens from your life is unlikely, there are steps you can take to banish tech neck. Taking plenty of tech-free breaks throughout the day ensures you don’t keep your neck in an improper position for too long, so try scheduling reminders to step away every 30 minutes or so.
Adjusting your workstation is another important action. This may include changing the height of your desk or your monitor to keep your screen at eye level, investing in an ergonomic chair, or using a footrest to maintain good posture throughout the day. If you suspect your mobile phone or tablet is the main problem, there are also stands for these devices to help you avoid tilting your head too often.
Regular exercise that includes stretching (especially neck stretching) should be part of every healthy lifestyle, but it’s especially important if you sit at a desk for prolonged periods. Regular exercise strengthens your muscles and makes them more flexible. And stronger, more flexible muscles make it easier to maintain good posture too.
If you are struggling with tech neck or working in an environment that puts you at risk for developing this chronic condition, consider investing in a massage chair or massage bed. The CERAGEM V6 is a thermal massage bed that has been cleared as an FDA-cleared Class II medical device. Designed to replicate an in-person massage without having to leave home, the massage bed is equipped with heated massage rollers that apply heat to loosen tight muscles and improve circulation just like you’d expect from a hot stone massage. The device also features patented scanning technology, which tailors the massage to your individual pain points and knots, providing a fully customized experience. Even more, the massage bed helps to stretch the spine for an improved range of motion and relaxation.
Learn more about how an in-home massage bed can improve your physical and mental health by browsing the full collection of Ceragem products.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist specializing in health and wellness. She has written for TIME, Health, Glamour, Parents, Women’s Health, VICE, and the Telegraph.
UT Southwestern Medical Center – All that texting and scrolling leads to a rise in ‘tech neck’
John S. Michels, MD – What is tech neck?
National Library of Medicine – Text Neck Syndrome in Children and Adolescents
National Library of Medicine – Musculoskeletal neck pain in children and adolescents: Risk factors and complications
Spine Institute of North America – Ice vs. Heat: A User’s Guide to Hot and Cold Therapy
National Library of Medicine – Increase of plasma beta-endorphins in connective tissue massage