Are Digital Devices the Cause of Your Neck and Back Pain?

In the digital era, we are constantly hearing more and more about the negatives of constantly being on our devices. This can range to anything from vision difficulties to arthritis in the hands. Now, more and more people are starting to recognize the onset of neck and back pain as early as the teenage years. Could digital devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers be to blame?

While all individuals are different, most people walking around on their phones do so with slumped shoulders and their head down, especially when typing with two hands. Knowingly or not, many users are often looking down at a laptop screen or may not have their desktop computer positioned at the correct height.

Over time, these habits can cause damage to one’s proper biomechanical build. The muscles of the neck and upper back, specifically the erector spinae, sternocleidomastoid and trapezius, are designed to maintain a certain length-tension relationship throughout our daily function. 

When in this constant hunched over position, all of these muscles are put on a prolonged stretch that is out of the position they are designed to be in. Over time, the muscles start developing adhesions, or “knots,” in response to the constant stress placed upon them. These adhesions are often painful and serve to reinforce the muscles as micro-tears occur through the prolonged stretching.

Often, these adhesions will cause pain at the base of the neck and inside of each shoulder blade as well as along the upper spine on either side. While it can be challenging to deal with at first, there are corrections that can be made to help alleviate this pain.

To help prevent or relieve pain associated digital device usage, try these tips: 

1) Focus on posture when typing

While this may seem strange, holding a phone at eye level will help prevent slouching or typing in a head-down position. 

2) Keep your shoulders back

Whenever you are typing, continue to pinch your shoulder blades back. This helps to maintain the proper muscular length when typing. You should also adjust your chair height so that your feet are planted flat on the floor and your knees are in line or slightly lower than your hips.

3) Strengthen the posterior muscles

Performing exercises for the upper back such as rows, pull-downs, and external rotation can help strengthen your posterior muscle. This will help correct your posture. 

4) Schedule time to unplug

Digital devices and technology were designed to enhance your life and make it easier, not so that you would be chained to them. Set a timer every hour to get up from your desk and walk for a few minutes. Considering leaving your phone in another room when you go to bed each night and make it a point to schedule a time to unplug. This could be during certain hours of the day, one day a week or for an entire weekend each month–whatever works best for your schedule. The important thing is to give your mind, as well as your body, a break.

When to Seek Help

Anytime pain persists or starts to increase in severity, especially if you’ve already tried the tips above with little to no improvement, you should consult a physician to rule out other potential conditions affecting the spine and neck. 

Dr. Nael Shanti of Cary Orthopaedics Spine Center specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of spinal conditions. To schedule an appointment, call (919) 297-0000.