If you’ve ever used your phone or computer for long periods of time, then you may have noticed your neck and shoulders feeling tense after, or maybe even a slight headache or tired eyes. This can be due to something called ‘text neck’: a repetitive strain injury that is caused by looking at our screens for too long.

Text neck is a common occurrence — and it’s only going to increase as our use of technology grows. A report on the long-term health of office workers1 found that the number of smartphone users in Europe is expected to exceed 522 million by 2021, so the problem of text neck is likely to be around for some time.

Without addressing this discomfort, text neck can lead to a host of other problems including an increase in headaches and poor posture. So here, we’ll take a look at why we get text neck and at some easy ways you can help reduce the impact of digital devices on our bodies.

What is text neck?

Text neck, sometimes known as tech neck, refers to a repetitive strain injury caused by having our heads at an unnatural angle for long or frequent periods of time. This might be while using digital handheld devices or using a laptop at waist level.

 Our neck muscles and tendons are only designed to support an upright head position for extended periods of time, so when we tilt forward at a 45-degree angle it increases the pressure on our neck, back and shoulders. Unlike watching TV by looking straight ahead, the way we view tablets and smartphones means our heads are tilted at an angle for long periods of time playing games, watching videos and movies or interacting with friends via text or social media.

The touchscreen element or controls of these devices often requires both hands which exacerbates the forward curve of our shoulders, which adds to the problems of neck/back strain.

What are the symptoms of text neck?

Typically, you will feel some pain around the neck and shoulders. This pain can be anywhere from a dull ache to a more severe sharp pain and can be either constant or temporary. It’s important to remember that the symptoms of text neck vary from person to person depending on how much they use their devices, how they hold them and generally how fit/young they are. Those with stronger back and neck muscles will be affected much less than those without.

What impact can text neck have?

Beyond the initial pain that text neck can bring, it can also, when left untreated, lead to a number of other problems:

  • Reduced mobility in the neck, shoulder and upper back, which may impact day-to-day activities like driving and exercising
  • Poor posture as the neck juts forward and the shoulders curve round
  • An increase in headaches due to this poor posture and the associated tensed muscles 

All the above can be exacerbated if you experience eye strain or blurry vision, because we tend to stare harder and lean closer to the screen as a result.

Remember, if in addition to neck pain you have a fever, dizziness, pins and needles in your arms or anything that doesn’t feel right, consult medical experts immediately.

Treatment options: text neck

If you feel that text neck is causing you issues, head to your GP who will advise on any further treatment. In the meantime, however, there are some steps you can take to try and help prevent it:

  •  Lift your phone higher so that your head is less tilted
  • Try to limit your time looking down into devices – set an alarm or use usage apps to remind you to take breaks
  • Try to maintain good posture, chin back, shoulders back and lift up out of your hips to keep your spine straighter
  • When at work, make sure your screen is set at eye level to limit the amount you look down. When typing look down with your eyes at the keys, try not to tilt your head, or even better teach yourself to touch type
  • Exercise will help maintain a strong core and keep your neck and back muscles strong and flexible
  • To ease neck pain, arch your back and neck occasionally and walk around
  • Speak to a medical professional and follow any exercises they advise
  • If you use a computer screen a lot, glasses with a prescription purely for computer use could help ease text neck.
  • If you wear varifocals, you could try lowering your screen so that you are looking through a slightly lower portion of your lenses. Alternatively, speak to our store colleagues about our SuperDigital varifocals.

Text neck and varifocal users

If you’re a varifocal wearer, then you will experience a different type of text neck. This is because, instead of leaning forwards over devices, you will tilt your head back to use the close-up portion of your lenses to watch, text and read from handheld devices. When using a computer at eye level you may also tilt your head back to view through the lower part of the lens if the screen is too close to view through the midrange section of the lens. Tilting the head back is just as bothersome on the neck muscles as tilting forward.

A common option here is to have glasses purely for computer use or to lower the screen if possible but then you may experience issues with having your head tilted forward.

At Specsavers, however, we understand the awkwardness this can bring into your everyday life. Our specialised lenses, SuperDigital varifocals, have been designed specifically to cater for our increased use of digital devices. Unlike traditional varifocals, the near vision zone in SuperDigital lenses is designed to cater for the way we hold our phones, because we hold our phones at a closer, higher position that can be difficult to adjust to.

With SuperDigital varifocals, you can switch between the TV, your phone or tablet, and checking the clock with an easier, more natural transition. They even include our UltraClear SuperClean treatment, which helps to reduce the effects of screen glare and keep your vision crisp.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our SuperDigital lenses can help you, head over here.

References

1. A report on the long-term health of office workers. Commissioned by: Fellowes Authored by: William Higham Published: June 2019. Accessed Nov 19 [https://assets.fellowes.com/skins/fellowes/responsive/gb/en/resources/work-colleague-of-the-future/download/WCOF_Report_EU.pdf]