Neck pain and screen time
Updated: Feb 18
We all know that spending time on our phones, tablets and computers isn’t great for us and hours on social media may be making things worse. Most of us know we should get our heads (physically and mentally) away from our phones, but what is the actual effect of this technology on our posture?
The adult human head is heavy: between 4.5kgs and 5kgs. This is about the weight of nearly 2 full kettles of water…including the kettle itself.
Looking at a screen generally requires at least a 15-degree forward tilt of the head. This forward tilt, combined with the effect of gravity, increases the effective weight of the head by nearly 3 times, i.e. the equivalent weight of at least 5 kettles of water… yes, still including the kettle.
With poor head posture or repetitive strain of the neck, such as looking at our phones all day, the weight of the head starts to compress the joints in both the upper and lower neck, and causes ongoing strain to the ligaments that are designed to support our heads, not to mention stressing the muscles that move our heads around.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us suffer from stiff and achy necks, headaches, shoulder and upper back tension. You need pretty strong neck muscles to support that kind of weight, but I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in the gym working on their neck muscles.
Of course, it’s not just about neck muscles. All of our postural muscles are involved in supporting our heads in different positions, but neck strengthening is a good starting point.
So, if you’re suffering from a stiff or achy neck, or headaches that originate from neck tension, after being on your phone, computer or sat at your desk, some simple strengthening exercises might be just what you need. The exercise described below, done properly, works on the neck muscle strength and decompresses the joints in the neck*
1. Lie on the floor on your front
2. Engage your stomach muscles and tuck your tailbone underneath you to protect your lower back
3. Rest your forehead on your hands and tuck your chin in
4. Keeping your chin tucked in and eyes looking at the ground, lift your forehead off your hands by engaging the muscles at the back of your neck
5. Hold for 3-5 seconds and then bring your forehead back to your hands
6. Repeat, holding for 3-5 seconds for each repetition, 8 to 10 times. Rest for a minute or so, then do the same ‘set’ again 8 to 10 times (or as many as you can manage up to 10: if you can only 3 or 4 repetitions to start with, that’s fine: you’ll get stronger and be able to do more eventually)
Do these exercises 3-4 times a week for 6 weeks, and gradually increasing the number of sets, or length of the holds, over the weeks until you can do 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
PS. It's normal to experience slight muscle stiffness a day or two after a new exercise: it's one way you can tell the exercise has started to work!
* DO NOT do this exercise if you have acute pain in your neck, or if you think the exercise may aggravate any existing discomfort. Pay attention to your body and seek help from your Osteopath, GP or similarly qualified healthcare professional if needed.
If you regularly suffer from neck pain, back pain, or pain in other joints, seeing an Osteopath for diagnosis, treatment and advice is a great way of getting more comfortable. If you want to book an appointment, call Body for Life Osteopathy on 07710 466880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog post created by Alex Davies, Body for Life Osteopathy