Dr. Christian Athanassious, co-director of the Total Spine Health Program at Santa Rosa Orthopaedics discusses the latest research regarding the impact technology can have on the neck and spine and offers suggestions that can be taken to ensure neck and spine health into the future.

In an article published last month in Ergonomics, researchers from Washington State University evaluated the head-neck biomechanics occurring during the use of handheld electronic devices such as tablets. Authors of the study were able to determine that use of a tablet increases mechanical demand on neck muscles by as much as 3 to 5 times – more than when the neck is in a neutral position. Perhaps not a surprising outcome for such a study, but pointing out the potential hazards of overuse of mobile technology may help to develop guidelines for avoiding injury.

It’s a techno wonderland

phone neck pain smNew and innovative technology is constantly coming on the market; enticing users to spend long periods of time in postures that may not be good for the neck and spine, and a wide cross section of age groups are being affected. Last year 42 percent of people in the U.S. under the age of 18 reportedly owned one or more tablet, while half of the 35 to 49 age group used them regularly. Everything from notebooks to handheld tablets to smart phones and now smart watches – it’s all great until there is a negative impact on the body that affects normal daily function and mobility. The most likely culprits of neck strain are tablets and smart phones which put the most stress on the head and neck when used in combination with bad posture.

Researchers are reporting that positioning the body in a certain way for extended periods of time naturally increases pressure on the spine and decreases mobility. Typically these unnatural postures result from; sitting at a desk peering at a computer screen, hunched over a laptop or tablet, or with the head curled over a smartphone. A person with neck and shoulder strain caused by the prolonged use of technology may experience a wide range of possible symptoms including;

• Pain in the back of the neck that worsens with movement
• Muscle spasms and pain in the upper shoulder
• Headache in the back of the head
• Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
• Neck stiffness or decreased range of motion

Symptoms can also include; sore throat, increased irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and trouble concentrating.

Understanding neck pain

The seven bones of the spinal column in the neck called cervical vertebrae are connected to each other by rubber band-like ligaments and muscles. Neck and spine strain can also occur in one or more of the soft tissues when a sudden movement, such as a motor vehicle collision or a hard fall, causes the neck to bend to an extreme position. For people who constantly use technology alleviating the potential for long term neck and spine issues is a matter of taking frequent breaks and being aware of the ergonomics involved.
Remedies for techno neck pain

The more obvious remedies include being aware of posture such as; don’t slouch and avoid propping a laptop on your lap, which automatically requires a person to slouch down in order to see the screen. Place the computer screen – whether it’s a laptop or a tablet at eye level whenever possible. Ideally, set the screen height and angle to make viewing possible without slouching, or bending or rotating the neck. It should also be positioned about an arm’s length in front of the user. Using ear buds rather than pressing a cellphone between shoulder and ear will automatically eliminate neck and shoulder strain.

Prevention is the best cure for neck and spine issues caused by prolonged use of technology, and maintaining overall wellness comes by adopting a combination of a balanced diet, appropriate exercise and physical activity and getting plenty of restful sleep. Tips for living with spine, neck or back pain also includes;

• Being aware of ergonomics; maintaining good posture and incorporating products such as ergonomically sound office chairs which can reduce back or neck pain.

• Take frequent breaks: standing and stretching not only helps to eliminate neck and back stiffness it also increases circulation which is beneficial to the whole body.

• Get plenty of exercise: head and neck exercises can help avoid a loss in range of motion or stretch muscles and ligaments that may be putting pressure on a nerve.

• Massage therapy: when neck and spine issues persist massaging the back or neck helps with relaxation and increases blood circulation.

• Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi: These exercise practices are known to be beneficial to people with back pain – by focusing on body alignment and using slow, low impact movements.

Treatment for neck pain

The treatment of soft tissue neck pain commonly includes the use of anti-inflammatory medication or depending on the source of pain; drugs such as muscle relaxers and antidepressants can be helpful for some patients. Pain can also be treated with the application of moist heat or ice packs. For more advanced cases in which nerve roots or the spinal cord are involved, surgical procedures may be necessary.

About Dr. Athanassious

Christian Athanassious, MDDr. Christian Athanassious is co-director of the Total Spine Health Program at Santa Rosa Orthopaedics. The Total Spine Health Program employs innovative diagnostic testing, minimally invasive surgical techniques, and targeted therapies at our full-service onsite physical therapy center to improve mobility and quality of life. With two expert orthopaedic physicians working alongside a veteran physical therapy staff within the same practice, SRO has set a high standard for comprehensive orthopaedic spine care in Sonoma County. To learn more visit our website to call 707-547-1922 to schedule an appointment.



Taylor & Francis. “Tablet use: significance of usage position, potential for neck damage.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 2015. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150313083406.htm