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How to get relief from ‘tech neck’

4 minute read
Woman having neck pain

Staring at your phone or computer for hours every day can cause neck and shoulder pain. Find relief with these expert tips.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

If your neck and shoulders are sore and achy at the end of the day, take a look at your tech habits. Leaning your head over your smartphone or laptop strains the muscles in the back of your neck. This can cause headaches and pain in your neck and shoulders. It’s known as “tech neck” because the more you use technology, the worse your pain is.

You may rely on your phone and computer for work and daily tasks (don’t we all?). But you’re not doomed to suffer because of it. Follow these expert tips to prevent and resolve tech-related neck pain.

Take movement breaks

“Most of the time, stiffness and tightness from tech neck is brought on by being in the same position for a long period,” says physical therapist Alyssa Kuhn. She’s the founder of Keep the Adventure Alive in Sandy, Utah. One of the best remedies is to take stretch breaks.

If you catch yourself staring down at your phone or computer, try this quick stretch:

  1. Position yourself to stand up straight.
  2. Slowly move your head from side to side, tilt your head back, and lean each ear down to a shoulder.
  3. Keep your movements slow and controlled. Don’t try to push your neck past its limits.

Aim to do these stretches every 10 to 20 minutes while using your phone, tablet or laptop. “These simple movements can help to improve your mobility and reduce tightness and pain,” Kuhn says.

In addition to regular neck stretches, try to get up and move around at least once an hour during your workday. Or change your position by sitting on an exercise ball or using a standing desk. “It’s important to give yourself some variety so you can work different muscles,” says Stephanie Agakian-Colón. She’s a licensed massage therapist at Bodhi Body Studios in Broomfield, Colorado.

Fix your posture

Practicing good posture habits can relieve neck pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Use these cues to correct your posture when working at your computer or on your phone:

  • Relax your shoulders, making sure they’re not rounded forward or pulled backward.
  • Position your elbows close to your body. They should be bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
  • Keep your neck neutral by gazing straight ahead. Don’t tilt your head up or down.
  • Hold your phone with both hands and use both thumbs to type.
  • When seated, keep both feet on the floor, with your ankles in front of your knees. Use a footrest if your feet don’t reach the floor.

One more idea: Invest in an adjustable-height desk or laptop stand, says Agakian-Colón. This lets you position your computer at eye level.

Use heat

Staring down at a screen for long periods can cause some muscles in your neck and shoulders to constantly stretch and others to chronically shorten. This can cause tension and muscle tightness, Kuhn says.

Heat moves more blood to the area, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. This relaxes your muscles, which helps relieve pain in the short term.

Try a contoured heating pad that covers your neck and shoulder area. Wear it any time your tech neck flares up.

(You can find pain-relief neck pillows that use infrared light therapy at the Optum Store.)

Apply pressure

Self-massage techniques can also bring blood flow to tight areas to help release tension, Kuhn says. Try a textured massage ball, massage stick or even your fingers.

With your tool of choice in hand, follow these steps:

  • Gently press into your neck and shoulders until you find tight spots.
  • Once you find an area of tension, apply firm pressure with your fingers or a massage ball or stick.
  • Move onto another spot and repeat.
  • The ideal pressure varies from person to person, so push only as hard as you comfortably can. Stop if you feel a sharp pinch or tingling.

You can buy acupressure pain-relief balls and rollers at the Optum Store — and have them delivered right to your door.

Work with a professional

Get professional help if at-home strategies don’t relieve your neck pain or you have frequent headaches. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist, or see a massage therapist or a chiropractor. It’s important to nip pain in the bud. If you don’t, you can end up with soft tissue damage, Agakian-Colón says.

Depending on which professional you see, you may be able to get a posture evaluation, stretches and exercises, and hands-on treatments such as massage.

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Additional sources
Posture: Mayo Clinic (n.d.). “Neck Pain”
Applying heat: Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses for Pain”