Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tech Neck: Natural Solutions to Neck Pain Caused by Use of Electronic Devices

There are many comical memes floating around the internet (see right) about the fact that we have become zombies, with our faces constantly  in our smart phones and other electronic devices. While there are many issues that can be discussed regarding this phenomenon, this post will be focused on what happens in your body when your head is directed down for long periods of time. Many healthcare professionals have coined the terms "Tech Neck" or "Text Neck" to describe this condition, which occurs when the head is forward for long periods of time. What happens, in a word: Pain.

Having your head tilted forward, even just 15 degrees, can cause a huge strain on the very small, very delicate muscles and vertebrae in the neck and upper back. Over time, these muscles actually weaken and can cause problems not only in the neck, but problems that can travel down the arms as far as the hands and fingers. Most instances of numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers is due to dysfunction in the neck.

The simplest solution is to prevent the problem in the first place by using good posture and not dropping your head forward. Practices like ballet, yoga and tai chi are great ways to practice proper posture and encourage the body to be in healthy alignment. If you can keep your head over your shoulders (and your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles) it can take the strain off of the neck muscles. For many, however, the damage is already done and they are looking for relief.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion can offer relief from Tech Neck by releasing the tension in the neck and upper back. "When there is pain there is no free flow; when there is free flow there is no pain." This Chinese Medicine statement refers to the flow of Qi, or energy, in the body. If your alignment is good, Qi flows as it should. When muscles are straining, that can cause stagnation of energy, so the free flow gets stuck. That "traffic jam" of energy is experienced as pain; the more severe  the pain, the more significant the stagnation. Acupuncture and Moxibustion free the flow of Qi, and open up the circulation in the muscles so that they function properly.

Once you are out of pain, you need to work to keep yourself aligned. Instead of holding your device low in front of your waist or even your chest, try holding it level with your eyes; if you need to hold it low, do it for very short periods of time, taking breaks to look up and relax your neck muscles.

At the end of the day before bed, lie on the edge of your bed facing upward with the base of your skull (not the base of your neck) at the edge of your mattress. Relax in this position for a few minutes to stretch out the muscles in the front of your neck, which often get tight as the posterior (rear)muscles strain and lengthen. You can adjust how much of your head leans over the side of your bed by how it feels. As long as it feels good and you aren't straining, you should be fine. Remember to inhale deeply into your abdomen and exhale slowly to experience the full benefits as you relax your neck.

For other great tips on how to keep your head where it belongs, read my previous post on Upper Back and Neck Pain. 

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