Tech Neck

Appears in the February 2020 issue.

By Dina Kartsonas

If you have a smartphone you may have spent several hours discovering all the things you can do with it. But you may have also discovered its downside: neck and shoulder pain, often referred to as “tech neck.” In an age of advanced technology and access to social media, neck and shoulder pain is especially widespread among smartphone users. The repetitive movements and sustained postures held while using smartphones may present pain in the shoulders, neck, elbows, and thumbs, and can also cause eye strain. 

Adults—and now children—are at risk for structural changes in their joints, muscles, tendons, and nails due to sustained postures while using these mobile devices. Physical symptoms include muscle pain and spasms in the neck and shoulders, with possible tingling and numbness in your arms and hands.

The causes are usually prolonged head tilting while viewing your device and raising your shoulder to your ear to secure the phone while talking. It has been estimated that for every 10 degrees of flexion or bend in the neck while viewing a smartphone, it translates to an additional eight to 10 pounds of force on the spine. For example, if someone standing straight holds their head upright, the average weight of an adult head is 10 to 12 pounds. If that person bends or flexes their neck just 30 degrees to look down at their phone, it adds 24 to 30 more pounds of force to the neck and shoulder muscles. If you bend your neck down to 60 degrees of flexion, that translates to approximately 60 pounds of force the neck and shoulder muscles need to work, just to hold the neck in place.

Recommendations to avoid “tech neck” 

Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.

Use the speakerphone feature or hands-free ear devices, such as headphones or Bluetooth devices.

When viewing the screen on your phone, hold it up at eye level or use a phone/tablet stand.

Heat, massage, and stretching may also reduce pain. Below are some ideal stretches you can do, using 30-second holds in a seated position, to relieve the muscle tension and pain associated with smartphone use.

Side bend

Bring head into neck-retraction position, then gently guide right ear toward right shoulder with right hand. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Head drop

Slowly move head up and backward as far as you can comfortably go. Repeat 10 times.


Bring head into neck-retraction position, then gently turn head diagonally to the right so your nose is over your shoulder. Repeat 5 times in each direction.

Shoulder pull

Bend raised arms at 90-degree angles, relaxing shoulders and neck. Keeping arms and neck still, squeeze muscles between shoulder blades, drawing them closer together. Repeat 5 times.


Bring head into neck-retraction position, then clasp hands behind head and gently guide head down, bringing chin toward chest. Stop when you feel a stretch in the back of the neck. Repeat 5 times. 

Illustrations by Ievgenii Volyk