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08th Mar 2024

What is ‘tech neck’ and why do so many of us suffer with it?

Sophie Collins

Tech neck

Do we all remember AI Susan and her ‘tech neck’?

In the digital age, our reliance on smartphones has skyrocketed, but with it comes a lesser-known consequence: ‘tech neck.’ 

Professor Luke O’Neill has confirmed an alarming rise in cases of this condition, attributing it to our incessant use of handheld devices. 

‘Tech neck’ is a repetitive strain injury stemming from poor posture while engaging with technology, such as smartphones and computers. 

As Prof O’Neill explains, constantly looking down at our phones leads to severe muscular issues in the neck, which can trigger debilitating headaches. 

Just as factory workers experienced cramps and pains from repetitive tasks back in the day, today’s smartphone users endure similar musculoskeletal strain due to prolonged screen time. 

The weight of the human head exacerbates the issue, as Prof O’Neill explained. Leaning forward to view screens places significant pressure – up to 22kg – on the upper neck and spine, resulting in muscle damage and subsequent pain. 

AI Susan
AI Susan; a depiction of what remote workers could look like in 25 years time

While short-term relief can be found through painkillers like paracetamol, Prof O’Neill emphasises the importance of addressing the root cause of ‘tech neck’ for long-term relief. 

He talked through four simple exercises with Newstalk which are recommended by physiotherapists to alleviate symptoms and prevent further strain on the neck muscles: 

1. Ceiling Staring: Take breaks to lift your head and gaze at the ceiling for 20-30 seconds, akin to “looking for cobwebs,” multiple times a day. 

2. Levator Scapulae Stretch: Perform a stretch known colloquially as ‘sniffing your armpit,’ which involves positioning one hand behind the shoulder and using the other hand to push the head toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds on each side. 

3. Double Chin Exercise: Push the head back while resisting with two fingers placed on the chin, effectively stretching the neck muscles. Hold for a few seconds. 

4. Shoulder Roll: Roll both shoulders forward for 10 seconds, then backward for 10 seconds, to alleviate tension in the neck and shoulders. 

By incorporating these exercises into our routine five times a week, we should experience significant relief from ‘tech neck’ symptoms.