I spend most of my day hovering over my kids as they remote learn and then sitting down in front of my laptop to write articles. By mid-day, every day, my shoulders and neck are stiff and achy from holding my body at awkward angles, bending over screens, and sitting on various chairs and beds while I move from room to room and kid to kid. The pandemic stress doesn’t help, either.
I learned there’s a term for the neck discomfort many of us are feeling after a day of helping with remote learning and working from home. Perhaps you’re experiencing tech neck, too? If you’re having the symptoms, there are some actions you can take to relieve (and prevent) the pain.
Scary Mommy reached out to Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a board-certified spinal and orthopedic surgeon to get the lowdown on tech neck. Tech neck is “the position of the neck that many patients default to when looking down at their smartphones, tablets, and computers.” The symptoms of tech neck include “pain, strain, reduced mobility, headaches and deconditioning of the neck muscles.”
Dr. Okubadejo warns us that tech neck isn’t just for teens who have a strong affinity for spending hours upon hours on their phones. That’s an old school way of thinking. Tech neck can happen to any of us if we aren’t paying attention to our “posture and positioning.” Your grandparents aren’t immune, either. They might be new to technology and spend time arched over a screen.
Will the number of tech neck cases increase because of the pandemic? Many of us are working from home while also helping our kids take part in remote learning. Dr. Okubadejo says, “It is hard to say if the pandemic will end up causing increases in the commonality of these symptoms. That will be something that we won’t know until later, but in theory, being restricted to being home and dependent on your smartphones and computers to study, work, or socialize for as long as we have been can contribute to more symptoms of tech neck developing.” Are we doomed to develop tech neck?
Not necessarily. Dr. Okubadejo says there are concrete, proactive steps we can take to protect our necks. First, we need to be mindful of our posture. It’s problematic if we are looking down our screens, with our shoulders pulled upward, especially for hours at a time. If we observe our posture (and correct it), as well as set up our workspaces appropriately, we will be much better off.
How can we have a correctly-arranged workspace? The doctor tells to invest in “an ergonomically correct work set up.” One step we can take is to purchase an adjustable chair that offers good back support.
We also can utilize our technology to our benefit by setting alarms to remind ourselves to take breaks. My husband, for example, is working from home but was in a large office building prior to the pandemic. He would take multiple breaks a day, walking across the floor to use the bathroom, stop into his boss’ office, head into conference rooms, and would have to walk far across the campus to and from his car. He moved a lot more, because he had to. Now, he has to consciously get up and exercise.
The doctor shares that it’s easy to get caught up in our responsibilities, like Zoom meetings, phone calls, e-mailing, and working, that we completely forget that our bodies need to stop being sedentary. The recommendation is that we move our bodies every thirty to forty minutes by standing up, stretching, and moving. If we’re going to decompress our neck muscles, we have to move. Stretching, in particular can be important in preventing tech neck.
If you sense you’re experiencing tech neck, there are some steps you can take. First, take an observant approach. What are you doing to strain your neck, and how can you improve your habits? Following the doctor’s advice is a great place to start. If you do change your habits, by creating a more ergonomic workspace, stretching, and taking breaks, and your pain isn’t reducing, you need to call your doctor. This is especially true if you’re having other symptoms such as dizziness, stiffness, and headaches.
Dr. Okubadejo shared, “We have to remember many people don’t even realize their home workspace is not adequate or that the angle at which we hold our neck to view our electronic devices can be detrimental.” Therefore, doctors such as specialists like Dr. Okubadejo and chiropractors may be seeing increased cases of patients with tech neck right now during the pandemic.
The recommendations offered aren’t just for adults who are working from home. Children who are learning remotely need to follow the tips as well, hopefully avoiding tech neck. It’s difficult for parents to put screen time limits on children who are required to utilize technology for school. But we can put reasonable screen time limits on entertainment tech time, as well as make sure our kids’ learning set up is neck-friendly.
We can also get moving as a family, prioritizing exercise. This doesn’t mean we have to force our kids to go on runs. Family activities can involve a yoga video, a dance break, or playing kickball in the yard. We can help our kids set movement reminders during the school day. One of my tweens and I have a contest to see who can get in the most daily steps.
This pandemic has caused many issues for parents and kids. Pun intended, COVID-19 has been a total pain in the neck, but it doesn’t have to force us into having tech neck. We can take practical steps to avoid this issue.
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