Does Your Neck Hurt? Your Phone Could Be to Blame

Your beloved device may be the cause for those annoying aches.

Have you ever woken up in a daze after spending hours checking out a stranger's Facebook page, when all you were going to do was read one message in your inbox? Or perhaps you've sworn to yourself that you weren't going to go down that rabbit hole (again) but ended up spending an entire Sunday afternoon stalking your college sweetheart? No matter what you use your phone for, indulging in this time suck not only affects your monthly bills and productivity, it may also be wreaking havoc on your body. If you have unexplained neck pain, you may be experiencing what's known as tech neck. Read on to see why your phone could be to blame for your aches and pains, and what to do about it.

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What is tech neck?

Woman with neck pain.
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Your fingers may not be the only thing aching after a long scroll session. The accumulative time spent looking down at a screen may be giving you what medical experts are calling tech neck.

"Tech neck is a condition caused by craning one's neck while staring down into a smartphone, tablet, or other handheld device," says Neel Anand, MD, director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center. "Doing this at length encourages an unnatural head position which places increased stress on the neck, upper back, and arms."

While looking down at your phone may not seem like a big deal, the strain it causes on your neck can result in discomfort—it's not something you should ignore.

"The simple movement of looking down to do something on your phone doesn't require much exertion so it may not seem harmful, but it's the duration and repetition of working against the body mechanics that set us up for pain and potential injury," says Anand.

Read on to see the few helpful things you can do to ease your pain and prevent it from happening continuing in the future.

Practice good posture.

Woman at her desk practicing her posture.
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One of the easiest things you can do to help your neck muscles out is to practice good posture. And while it may take some time, this will help ease some of the tension you have in your neck muscles.

"Posture is one of those things that improves the more you practice it," says Anand. "It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as we continue to align our bodies with a healthy posture, we are working the right muscles. They, in turn, become stronger and develop muscle memory to maintain our bodies in their proper positions."

Your body will used to this new position over a short period of time, so getting better posture won't feel off for too long. "Keep your head up, shoulders back, and chin tucked in just a bit," says Anand. "Whenever you feel yourself straying, pull your body back to this position throughout the day."

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Switch up your positions while on your phone.

Woman on her couch working.
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It's important to change up your position on days where might be glued to your phone. Luckily, just a simple change in the way you are sitting will provide you with effective relief.

"Holding your smartphone up to eye level may not make you look as cool, but it will definitely relieve the strain from your neck. But don't neglect your arms while doing this," Anand advises. "Support your arms and elbows by propping them on a table or armrest while sitting, or when standing, try not to raise them more than countertop level. Being mindful of the placement of your arms can dramatically reduce the strain on the shoulders."

You can get creative with your positions, and you don't need to necessarily sit either.

"If you are in a comfortable location like your house, laying on your back while working on a device is a great way to relieve pressure on the neck," says Anand. "Get comfortable on the couch or your bed with some pillows."

Take much needed breaks.

Woman in a plaid shirt stretching at work.
mangpor2004 / Shutterstock

If you can't seem to limit the amount of time and frequency that you're on your phone, Anand says to "to take breaks in between to change positions and readjust your posture."

While breaks are necessary no matter what kind of screen you're looking at, it's especially important when you're suffering from this common neck injury.

"A three-minute break every 15-20 minutes can help to realign your spine and give those neck and upper back muscles a chance to rest," says Anand. "You can even use the alarm on your device to remind you when to take a break from looking down at your phone. Doing this will help your eyes too."

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Exercise more often.

Woman doing pilates.
fizkes / Shutterstock

Stephen Dunn, MPT recommends "starting a Pilates practice to get stronger in your core and postural muscles." 

Pilates, along with other exercises that stretch out and loosen your muscles, like yoga, will help ease the tension you're feeling in your neck muscles. This will in return strengthen the muscles that are responsible for improving your posture. Working out and keeping your body moving will be helpful for muscle pain relief, and of course your overall health and wellbeing. Maybe it's time to set down the phone and break out the yoga mat.

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson is an Associate Editor at Best Life. Her work has been published in Teen Vogue, Allure, HuffPost, and more. Read more
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