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Neck and Shoulder Pain? Why "Tech Neck" Could Be To Blame

Woman with neck pain wants to get rid of tech neck

Spending hours looking at a laptop or hunched over a phone could strain more than just your eyes. Frequent headaches, feeling stiff or sore could be the result of “tech neck.”

It’s often associated with using tablets, laptops, videogames and watching TV, but it can also be caused by wearing heavy backpacks, sitting or driving for long periods of time and poor posture. Over time, this can result in pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, low back and even in the jaw.

“Tech neck can cause you to have long term pain,” said Yale New Haven Hospital affiliated spine surgeon Mihir Gupta, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Yale School of Medicine. “If it goes on too long, that pain can become very difficult to treat and structurally we can start to get damage to our neck, our shoulders or other joints and that can cause pressure on the nerves.”

How to get rid of tech neck

The first step in eliminating tech neck pain is to improve posture and muscle strength. For some people this may include incorporating yoga, or other dynamic stretches into their regular workout routine. For others, physical therapy may be helpful. In some cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are necessary, as are injections to affected joints to help with joint pain.

However, the key thing everyone should focus on is properly alignment in the body.

“The best prevention is to minimize screen time. When we must use screens for a long period of time, it’s important to maintain good posture and sit up straight, keeping our screens at eye level and to take regular breaks,” said Dr. Gupta.

In addition, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. Dr. Gupta says oftentimes patients notice a difference in how they physically feel once they make positive lifestyle changes.

When to see a doctor

Warning signs include any neurologic problems or symptoms elsewhere in the body such as weakness in the legs, bowel, or bladder. Additional symptoms accompanying pain such as fever, chills, headaches that won’t go away, visual symptoms or chest pain are red flags warranting emergency care.

But anytime changes to your routine are not helping to alleviate pain, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor.

“Sometimes we can have pain that comes from other joints, like our hips, and that can mimic pain that comes from our back or shoulders,” said Dr. Gupta.

There may also be underlying conditions such as an infection or illness that’s causing pain and, in some cases, may warrant additional treatment such as surgery.