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What Is "Tech Neck" and Do You Have It?

In pain? Thank your phone.

It comes as no surprise that technology is an increasingly integral part of the average person's life: nearly 77 percent of the American population now owns a smartphone, a figure that's more than doubled in the last seven years. In fact, research suggests that the average American now spends a staggering 8.5 hours in front of screens each day. The bad news? Our bodies are bearing the brunt of that relationship's damaging effect.

While the countless hours we've lost to cat videos and clickbait are bad enough, the potential for neck and back pain related to our screen usage is a more serious issue than many of us realize. Dubbed "Tech Neck" by medical professionals, the downward tilt in our neck that we often take on when looking at our phones, TVs, and computers can have serious repercussions for our spinal cords. Worse yet, if you spend a good portion of your day texting, working at a computer, or watching TV, odds are you're already well on your way to developing this condition.

Luckily, short of ditching our devices for good, there are still ways to combat this digital-era affliction. "The biggest thing you have to do to combat text neck is to stop looking down by bringing your device up so that it's in front of your face rather than below it," says Dr. Nicholas Riccio, D.C., a Manhattan-based chiropractor with New York Chiropractic Group. A good way to practice appropriate posture is to work on looking with your eyes instead of your entire head. "If you have a long dangly earring on, you'd want it to hit the midline of your shoulder," explains Dr. Riccio.

While the minor neck pain that accompanies our digital addiction is bad enough as it is, Dr. Riccio says that it may cause more serious trouble over time. "For every inch your head goes in front of your neck, it adds 10 pounds of pressure to your spine," he explains. This, in turn, flattens the cervical and thoracic curves in the human spine, causing not just neck pain, but pain throughout the back, as well. "The muscles pull on the bones and the bones get pulled on. The more they get pulled on, they more they change to accommodate that new pressure."

So, how can you tell if your tech habits are just a pain in the neck or something more? Head to a professional as soon as possible.

If you're experiencing ongoing neck pain, "Immediately head to a chiropractor," says Dr. Riccio. "The only way we can really tell if there are changes in the spine is to get an x-ray, which we do in the office. We can do a motion x-ray to tell which bones are moving and which ones aren't and get a clearer picture of movement and how to treat you better."

So, chin up techies! You can still enjoy that time wasted on the internet and keep your spine in perfect alignment—a win-win, if you ask us. And when you want to tackle a digital detox, start with the 11 Easy Ways to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction!

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more