Skip to Main

All that texting and scrolling leads to a rise in ‘tech neck’

Specialists at UT Southwestern’s Spine Center treat neck pain with therapies, advanced surgeries

The UT Southwestern Spine Center's multidisciplinary team treats patients with all levels of neck pain, including “tech neck,” which can occur when people spend long periods of time looking down at a cellphone. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

DALLAS – Feb. 14, 2023 – Technology can be a pain in the neck, leading to what’s known as “tech neck,” chronic pain that results from prolonged use of mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic devices.

Americans spend an average of more than five hours a day on their mobile phones and even more hours staring at laptops and computer screens. The repetitive strain on the bones, nerves, and muscles caused by looking down at a device can result in muscle stiffness, joint inflammation, pinched nerves, arthritis, and even bone spurs or herniated discs.

Dr. Kavita Trivedi is Associate Medical Director of the Spine Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“Humans are upright creatures, and our bodies aren’t designed to look down for long periods of time, which puts extra pressure on the cervical spine,” said Kavita Trivedi, D.O., Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Associate Medical Director of the Spine Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation is part of UTSW's Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.

The typical adult head weighs 10-12 pounds, but bending it forward at a 45-degree angle – not unusual when looking at a cellphone – increases the amount of force on the neck to nearly 50 pounds. 

“With repetition, that force can strain or injure the facet joints that connect our vertebrae. When that happens, the surrounding muscles naturally tighten up to protect nearby nerves, which leads to inflammation, pain, and knots in your neck – what is often referred to as tech neck,” Dr. Trivedi said.

The UTSW Spine Center’s multidisciplinary team specializes in comprehensive care for patients with all levels of neck pain, including tech neck. Nonsurgical treatments include medication and physical therapy, trigger point and steroid injections, nerve blocks, and minimally invasive techniques such as radiofrequency ablation. If surgery is the best option to relieve your pain and restore function, the center’s expert surgeons offer the most advanced techniques.

UT Southwestern is ranked 27th in the nation in rehabilitation by U.S. News & World Report and the department's residency program is one of the 10 largest in the country. UTSW has earned High Performing recognition from U.S. News & World Report for back surgery (spinal fusion), placing it among the nation's top hospitals for this procedure.

“The good news is that most patients with tech neck don’t require surgery, and we have a wide range of therapies that can be very effective. There’s no need to live with pain if it can be treated,” Dr. Trivedi said.

If you don’t currently have neck pain, take steps to protect yourself. Holding your phone at eye level as much as possible can help reduce the strain on your neck and possibly prevent future issues.

“Our phones and tablets are valuable tools, and there’s no need to give them up,” Dr. Trivedi said. “The solution is to learn how to prevent tech neck while using these devices, and if pain develops, see a specialist who can help.”

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.