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What is Tech Neck Syndrome?


How often do you find yourself immersed on your phone, only to realize that your neck is stiff from looking down for a prolonged period of time? Aside from the immediate cracking of your spine popping and the stiff roll of your shoulders, this posture can also lead to some serious long-term effects. According to Dr. Sangjin Lim, a board-certified primary care sports medicine physician at Crystal Run Healthcare, this constant, prolonged slouching can cause tech neck syndrome.


What is tech neck syndrome?


Tech neck syndrome, also known as text neck or turtle neck syndrome, is neck pain caused by repetitive or overuse stress from improper posture. This happens when people are constantly hunching over to read, write, text or look closer to a computer or tablet screen. “Whenever we bend our necks for those activities, muscles, tendons and ligaments in the neck have to work extra to support changing head weights,” said Dr. Lim. “In a neutral position, your neck usually supports nine to 12 pounds of head weight. When it is flexed, the pound-force from the head can increase up to 60 pounds.”


Frequent and prolonged pressure on the neck from increased head weight can lead to headaches, upper back pain, chest pain and nerve impingements. As people spend more time on computer screens, smartphones and tablets, this syndrome is becoming more prevalent across all age ranges and populations. Recently, this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as more people are working from home on the computer screen. Tech neck syndrome has also been increasing in school-aged children.


What are the symptoms of tech neck syndrome?


Although it is called tech “neck” syndrome, associated symptoms are not only localized to the neck. The following signs can occur from prolonged forward head posture from constant neck flexion:


• Headache – Spasms in the neck muscles in combination with eye strain from long screen time can exacerbate headaches.

• Upper back pain – The anatomy of the neck is intricate as it is the bridge that connects the head to the rest of the body. One of the muscles spanning through the neck, shoulders and upper back is the trapezius. Tech neck syndrome will cause spasms in the trapezius and other muscles, which in turn will affect the upper back, leading to more pain in the thoracic spine.

• Shoulder pain – In addition to the effect of a trapezius spasm, shoulders that are constantly in a rounded posture often cause muscle weakness.


What are the complications?


“If you don’t change your posture, prolonged and frequent tech neck syndrome can cause further complications like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, nerve impingement/pinched nerve, and the early onset of arthritis in the cervical spine,” said Dr. Lim. “Nerve impingement can sometimes lead to numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms, whereas significant arthritis without proper treatment will eventually lead to disc diseases.”


Another significant complication of bad neck posture is upper crossed syndrome. In addition to headache, neck, upper back and shoulder pain, constantly tilting the head forward can lead to tight upper back and chest muscles and weak neck flexor muscles and mid-back muscles, which creates muscular imbalances that in turn cause imbalances in other parts of the body.


What treatments are available?


Basic postural changes can prevent long-term issues. Experts suggest taking these preventative measures:


• Position electronic screens (phones, tablets, computer screens, books) at the eye level to keep the head from tilting forward. Finding the eye level is the key; placing the screen above will also strain the neck to tilt backward.

• Take frequent screen breaks to stretch the neck and upper back. In addition to stretches, it is also important to do regular exercises to strengthen the neck and upper back.

• Maintain proper posture when sitting (back straight, shoulders back, feet on the floor) and standing, and avoid slouching.


“If you still can’t find relief, you should follow up with a physician for further evaluation and intervention,” said Dr. Lim. “A provider will recommend one or a combination of the following treatments: physical therapy, osteopathic manipulation, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and/or other manual therapies. If the condition becomes significantly severe and chronic, a pain medicine physician may be consulted for more treatment options with epidural injections and/or nerve blocks.”



Sangjin Lim, DO, is a primary care sports medicine physician. Dr. Lim is board-certified in family medicine and osteopathic manipulative treatment and sports medicine. He earned his doctorate of osteopathic medicine at Debusk College of Osteopathic Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. He completed his residency in family medicine at Rochester Regional Health - United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, New York. Dr. Lim completed his fellowship in neuromusculoskeletal medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital in Southampton, New York and his fellowship in sports medicine at Northwell Health - Plainview Hospital in Plainview, New York. His clinical interests include osteopathic manipulative medicine, sports medicine, non-operative orthopedics, concussions, musculoskeletal ultrasound, Prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma. Dr. Lim is seeing patients in West Nyack.