Q: I’ve had pain in the back of my neck and sometimes shoulders periodically for some time. To relieve the pain, I usually rub some muscle pain ointment. But recently, the pain has been persistent and the ointment doesn’t seem to help. Friends say I may have tech neck.
What is tech neck and what can I do about it?

A: Tech neck is a term used to describe the strain and injury to the neck from the prolonged use of smartphones, tablets, computers and other tech devices. The neck muscle becomes strained when we look down at our phones, for instance. The muscle contracts to hold up the neck, and the lower we hang our head, the more our muscle needs to work to hold up our head. As a result, the neck muscle becomes tired and sore.

The muscles and ligaments in the neck become inflamed in the early stages of injury, with the person experiencing aches in the neck, shoulders and upper back. He may also feel sharp pain in the neck and experience headaches. 

If nothing is done and the condition worsens, the person can experience nerve compression-related symptoms such as pain that radiates down the upper arm, forearm and hand, as well as numbness in those places. So seek medical attention if the pain persists for three to four weeks, intensifies or becomes more frequent.

Having a good posture and learning to identify muscle stress are important in avoiding tech neck. Those who use the computer for work should use a chair with good back support that also allows the elbows to rest at an angle between 70 and 90 degrees. They should also take a break from sitting or looking down at their phone every 30 minutes and do some stretches and exercises.

Dr Lim Yee Gen, Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital