Blog January 30, 2023

Say goodbye to tech neck: 5 essential physical therapy exercises to help you get rid of pain

Originally written on 10/18/2021 by: Joe Zucco, P.T., DPT, FAAOMPT, center manager for Select Physical Therapy. Updated 1/30/2023 to include new data and information. | 5 min. read

For many of us, our smartphones are an indispensable part of our lives.

We use them to stay connected to family and friends, get information in seconds and tap our way through our favorite music, news, social pages, sports stats and recipe sites. We also use them to keep our personal and work appointments organized.

But, with all our tech device touchpoints each day, there’s a very real and painful side effect.

Studies show that we’re spending too much time hunched over our devices, creating tech neck, also called “text neck”.

Fortunately, physical therapy exercises can help you get rid of tech neck pain.

In this blog post, we’ll cover what tech neck is and the side effects of spending too much time on your phone.

We’ve even thrown in a surprising look at the pressure you’re putting on yourself that’s causing tech neck. Then we’ll leave you with five essential exercises to get rid of it.

What is tech neck?

Tech neck is a term used to describe the neck pain that has become increasingly more common due to our overuse of technology.

It’s caused by the strain on the neck from looking down at our phones and tablets for long periods of time.

This strain can cause pain, stiffness and even limited range of motion. And it’s becoming increasingly more common in younger generations due to the amount of time they spend on their devices.

Side effects of spending too much time on your phone

The yearly climb in how many hours US adults – and kids – spend on their mobile phones, feature phones and tablets will reach 4 hours, 35 minutes per day in 2023.

- research from Insider Intelligence

That’s a 2.5% increase since last year! Up from 3 hours, 42 minutes in 2018.

The side effects of spending too much time on your phone can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and stiffness.

The most common side effects include:

  • neck and shoulder pain
  • headaches
  • poor posture

Other side effects can include numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, as well as blurred vision.

It’s not something we think about often, but the human head is between 10 and 12 pounds.

That’s a bowling ball!

When you lean your head down, the lower the angle, the more pressure and strain that’s put on the head. That can feel like 10 bowling balls.

Series of women bending their necks a various degrees to look at their mobile phones.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of tech neck, physical therapy can help.

5 essential exercises for tech neck

Chin retraction

Hunched over, staring at your phone? Your head pushed out in front of your shoulders? This is the starting position for retraction.

When you realize you’re hunched over, pull your chin backward while looking directly forward. You should feel a “double-chin” forming under your jaw.

Repeat this forward/backward exercise 10 times once an hour or two while working or catching up on texts.

Trap stretch

Tension in the upper trapezius muscles is common. These muscles span the back of the neck and shoulders, working in tandem to move the head and shoulder blades. The trap stretch can be performed any time you feel tight.

Just 20-30 seconds for each side of the neck to release tension.

To stretch the right side, place your right hand on your waist or lower back, tilt your head to the left while looking back to the right. Place your left hand on top of your head and gently pull toward the left until you feel a comfortable stretch. Don’t overdo it.

Repeat on the other side.

Thoracic extension

Okay… let’s be honest. This one might look a bit odd if your cubicle mates walk by while you’re doing this stretch.

But the Ah-hhh factor will be worth it!

Lean forward in your chair. Pretend you’re smashing a pillow between your belly and thighs. Place your hands with fingers crossed behind your head.

Do this one every couple hours while sitting at your work space. Who knows? You might convince others to join in. 

Prone retraction

The next two exercises might be better done at home… curious onlookers and all.

Lie face down on the floor with your arms at your side, hands near the hips.

Keep your neck straight (do not look upward).

Lift your chin, arms and knees slightly off the floor.

Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and release to the floor. Repeat 10 times for three sets.

Prone scaption

Lie face down on the floor with your arms reaching upward and slightly outward from your head.

Keep your neck straight and lift your chin, arms and knees off the ground.

Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and release to the floor. Repeat 10 times for three sets.

With the overhead arm position, this exercise emphasizes the lower trapezius muscle between your shoulder blades. The prone scaption can be performed 2-3 days each week to promote strengthening of the muscles across the back of your neck, shoulders and torso.

Strengthening your neck posture

In addition to the exercises listed above, it’s important to pay attention to your posture while using your phone or tablet.

Keep your chin parallel to the ground, and make sure your neck is in line with your spine. This will help reduce the strain on your neck and reduce tech neck pain.

Tech or text neck and how to avoid it

If you’re looking to avoid tech neck pain in the future, the best way is to limit your use of technology.

Set limits on how much screen time you spend on your phone or have your apps running.

Take regular breaks from looking at your screen.

You can also invest in a stand for your phone or tablet that angles the screen toward you, so you don’t have to look down as much.

And now, armed with these exercises, stay active and stretch regularly to keep your neck and shoulder muscles flexible to reduce the strain on your neck. Save the bowling balls for when you go bowling.

If you’re experiencing neck pain, it’s important to seek medical attention. A physical therapist can provide the necessary treatments to help reduce and eliminate pain. Request an appointment to work with one of our movement experts near you.