We must become more aware of the potential strain on our joints and muscles as a result of staring at a screen throughout the day
Now, nearly two full years into the pandemic, we continue to feel some of the effects of a “new normal” in so many ways. One of the biggest shifts has been a large percentage of the workforce now fulfilling their job duties from home. That’s right, a whopping 42% of the population clock in from their residential office, couch, or dining room table. While there are many benefits to working from home including a more flexible schedule, eliminating a commute, and less distraction, 365 days in a makeshift workspace may be taking its toll on your neck, shoulders, and back. We’ll be exploring the symptoms and providing solutions to this age-old, yet aptly renamed condition throughout the following paragraphs.
The kids these days refer to it as ‘tech neck’ or ‘text neck,’ the result of an average of 3 hours per day spent on smartphones, and a whopping 50% increase of screen time since the beginning of the pandemic. As our hours on digital media increase across multiple device types, we must become more aware of the potential strain on our joints and muscles as a result of staring at a screen throughout the day. More specifically, staring downward may cause ongoing muscle stiffness, strain, or stress injury in your neck and back. In fact, tilting your head just 15 degrees south increases the weight of your head by fifty percent, causing your neck muscles to support a 27-lb. noggin vs. 12 or so pounds when looking straight ahead.
What may start as muscle strain from holding up those 27 pounds can translate into more serious issues over time. Long term damage may include herniated discs, tension headaches, and neck sprain which may require medical attention, and sometimes surgery.
Other symptoms of tech neck may include shoulder pain, reduced mobility, jaw pain, and even tingling sensations.
So, what do we do to prevent the eventual strain and pain? A few simple changes can greatly reduce the potential effects.
1. Raise your screen
Your phone, laptop, or desktop screen should be raised to eye level or slightly above. Not surprisingly, a number of accessories, such as adjustable laptop stands, are available help with your specific needs.
2. Pay attention to your posture
Mom’s old adage of “sitting up straight” is actually incorrect — orthopedically speaking, anyway. Sitting straight may put too much strain on your lower back, neck, and shoulders. Aim for a 25-30° angle. In this scenario, your chair provides proper lumbar support which removes pressure by keeping the back arched. Secondly, tilt your head slightly backward to alleviate neck strain. A tall back chair with proper head support is a great investment if you spend 6+ hours per day seated.
3. Move it, move it
Taking frequent breaks is imperative for those who primarily work seated for long period of time. Stand up, stretch, and take some deep, cleansing breaths. If time allows, go for a walk to get the blood flowing. Drink plenty of water. Allowing your mind, eyes, and neck to rest will contribute to increased productivity and improved overall health. Pro tip #1: Set timers to remind you throughout the day to get moving! Building this time into your schedule will help establish consistency and keep you on the path to orthopaedic wellness. Pro tip #2: Leave your phone on your desk while you take these breaks. Media breaks are good for your body and mind as well!
4. Stay in tune with your body
If you’ll notice throughout this blog, paying attention is a strategy. So much of the work we have to do here is mental – keeping up with your posture, remembering to take breaks, harnessing the energy to exercise … It’s tough to know when to push through something, and when to ask for help. If you are experiencing consistent pain in the form of severe headache, numbness, or sharp discomfort in the neck and shoulder area, seek medical attention. Consulting your orthopedic doctor will help you get to know your body even better, and together you can develop a plan for how to execute a treatment plan specific to your situation.
5. Develop an exercise regimen
There are volumes of studies and data that show the positive effects of working out regularly. Choose the type of exercise which works best for you, and get your body moving. In addition to increased energy, weight loss, improved heart health, you may find yourself in a better mood with a side of reduced stress and anxiety. Remember, consistency is key, so be sure to change up your exercise style should you find yourself bored or disengaged.
Awareness is step one, and now you are in the know! Should you need the advice of an orthopaedic professional, please reach out to our practice today.