When we do the same movements with our bodies over and over again, we overuse some muscles. And that overuse can lead to strain and injury.
Sometimes those problems can come from doing sports. But exercise professionals say they are now seeing another cause for muscle problems: hand-held technology devices.
Staring down at your phone or tablet for long periods of time puts great tension on your neck and spine. Many people who use tech devices also hunch their shoulders forward. Experts say this posture puts strain on the entire upper body.
Muscle strain linked to hand-held technology has become such a common condition that it now has a name: tech neck.
Kimberly Fielding, an exercise teacher in New York City, explains that constantly looking down at our devices creates an unnatural curve in our spine. This can cause nerve pain and other problems.
"A lot of the curves of the neck can change, so instead of the cervical spine going inward, the curve can be a little bit different and it causes nerve pain and herniation(s) and different muscle tension headaches -- different things that really can reduce quality of life."
Common symptoms of tech neck are neck pain, loss of feeling in your hands and fingers, headaches -- both mild and severe -- and poor posture. In the worst cases of tech neck, you can lose the strength in your hands and fingers.
Fielding noticed that many of her clients were coming to her for help with this “forward head posture.” So, she created a class to directly address the problem of tech neck.
The class uses different exercises to release tension in the upper body and strengthen back and neck muscles. The class also works on breathing and posture.
For a quick fix, Fielding has a simple suggestion -- hold your phone at eye level.
"You can see the eye line change right away. So the gaze is horizontal now, and they're very aligned."
A student of Fielding, Yasmin Venable, says the exercises have helped her release tension.
"I feel like I used to carry a lot of tension, especially in my upper arms and have like this, 'ehh' feeling and now I feel like . . . I have a neck now!"
Fielding says these exercises may feel uncomfortable in the beginning because the neck muscles may have become weak.
"It's a little uncomfortable, but it's because those muscles a lot times, right, are so weak from being overstretched and being in this other position."
However, you don’t need to take a class like Fielding’s. You can take simple steps to improve tech neck.
Take breaks from using your technology. Stand up and stretch your legs often. Also, give your eyes a break by closing them throughout the day.
Move your eyes to the screen not your neck, head or shoulders.
Do neck exercises. Experts at the website Spine Universe recommend these three neck stretches.
1. Chin Stretch
Move your chin towards your chest. Hold for 5 seconds. The stretch should feel comfortable from your neck to the base of your skull. Repeat 10 times.
2. Side Tilt
Tilt your head to the right. Bring your ear close to the shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds. Bring your head back to center, and then tilt it to the left, again holding for 20 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
3. Side-to-Side Head Rotation
Rotate your chin towards your right shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds. Bring your head back to the center, and then rotate it to the left, again holding for 20 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
And if your tech neck symptoms get worse, see a health care professional.