How to Prevent Tech Neck in 8 Steps

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Flexing your neck forward while using electronic devices can result in neck pain, or tech neck.
Flexing your neck forward while using electronic devices can result in neck pain, or tech neck.

Between entering data in electronic health records, researching, and sending emails, it may feel like you spend your whole day hunched over a desk staring at a screen. The reality isn't too far off: clinicians spend nearly 6 hours daily interacting with the EHR.1

All that time spent using electronic devices can have an unfortunate consequence: tech neck, a condition characterized by pain, soreness, and stiffness in the neck. Over time, tech neck can lead to a range of health issues from muscle strains to nerve impingement.

While at your practice, be on the lookout for neck stiffness, numbness in your arms, and pain between the shoulder blades. Then follow these 8 tips to prevent tech neck:

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1. Keep Good Posture

Chances are you don't pay much attention to your posture while you type away on the computer. However, there's a simple trick you can implement to ensure you stay upright: place a folded towel or sweatshirt (approximately 3 inches thick) between your back and the chair. Your lumbar spine will receive the support it needs, and you won't have to think twice about the position you're sitting in.

2. Download Posture Apps

Most (84%) physicians use smartphones for work purposes,2 and there are apps designed to help maintain good posture while doing it. Some apps track your posture based on the tilt angle of your phone and provide real-time feedback while others walk you through stretches to strengthen your neck muscles.3

3. Wear an Activity Tracker

Activity trackers are another useful means for combatting tech neck. They allow you to set exercise goals and track your progress. You can reach your goals by walking around between seeing patients, taking the stairs, or even parking farther from the building than normal.

4. Stretch

Stretching is a quick and efficient activity that you can incorporate throughout the day. One effective stretch for preventing tech neck is the corner stretch:

  • Stand facing a corner with your feet together approximately 2 feet from the wall
  • Place your forearms on each wall and keep your elbows just below shoulder height
  • Lean forward as far as possible and hold for 30 seconds to a minute

5. Keep Your Monitor at Eye Level

To reduce neck flexion, use a monitor stand for your computer. Set the stand up so that the screen is at eye level. Also consider investing in a standing desk – not only will it help you avoid tech neck, but staying on your feet can produce a variety of health benefits including reduced risk for obesity and cardiovascular disease.4

6. Sit in a Chair With a Headrest

If you opt against a standing desk, make sure you sit in a chair with a headrest. The back of your head should stay in contact with the headrest while you sit. Doing so will help you avoid flexing your neck forward.

7. Spread Out Your Screen Time

Some clinicians fall into a pattern of waiting until day's end to cram all their digital tasks in, resulting in many consecutive hours of screen time. To avoid this, set reminders on your smartwatch or smartphone for certain intervals throughout the day. That way you can handle your electronic work incrementally.

8. Keep Hydrated

You might be so busy treating patients and updating patient records that you forget the basics, such as drinking enough water. Because the disks in the spine are composed largely of water, frequent hydration is key in preventing tech neck and keeping the disks healthy and pliable.

Follow these 8 steps and you can avoid a literal pain in the neck at your practice. For additional tips about preventing tech neck, click here.


References

  1. Arndt BG, Beasley JW, Watkinson MD, et al. Tethered to the EHR: primary care physician workload assessment using EHR event log data and time-motion observations. Ann Fam Med. 2017;15(5):419-426.
  2. Physicians' usage of smartphones for professional purposes in the US from 2012 to 2015. Statista. Accessed September 27, 2018.
  3. Bradford A. How to avoid ‘text neck.' CNET. May 25, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2018.
  4. Stromberg J. Five health benefits of standing desks. Smithsonian Magazine. March 26, 2014. Accessed September 27, 2018.
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