In the last decade, the increased use of smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices has resulted in more and more individuals taking on a slumped posture as they spend excessive amounts of time looking down to check email, browse the web, play games, or use social media. This forward head posture can place added strain on the neck and mid-back, increasing the risk for pain in these areas. That’s hardly news to anyone. However, is it possible these same devices can be used to manage one’s neck pain?
In 2017, researchers conducted a study using a smartphone app designed for office workers with neck pain. Based on the users’ responses to questions about the nature of their neck pain, the app provided an individualized neck exercise program to be used for ten to twelve minutes a day, three days a week, for eight weeks. At the conclusion of the program, the participants reported significant improvement in neck pain intensity and disability and improved quality of life. However, the app did not appear to improve fear avoidance behavior or cervical range of motion.
An experiment conducted in 2020 with an app that promotes neck pain self-management through stretching and deep breathing exercises found that this approach resulted in improvements with respect to pain intensity, muscle tension, pressure pain threshold, and cervical range of motion.
Because there’s an abundance of research showing that neck-specific exercises can benefit patients with neck pain, these results aren’t very surprising. However, apps have the ability to remind users to perform their exercises and track their progress, which is important since exercise protocol adherence is often an issue.
For individuals with neck pain who are unable to manage their condition with exercise alone, chiropractic care can be an excellent choice. Doctors of chiropractic are trained to diagnose the root causes of a patient’s mechanical neck pain and to deliver manual therapies to restore motion to the affected joints, which can reduce pain and disability. Treatment may also involve nutritional recommendations to aid the healing process and the prescription of specific exercises to strengthen weakened deep neck muscles and reduce the risk for neck pain recurrence.
While devices have become a part of life and advice to limit screen time will go unheeded, there are steps that can be taken to reduce one’s risk for device-related neck pain. For example, avoid looking downward when using an electronic device. Instead, hold it at eye level so you can maintain good posture. Additionally, get regular exercise as the stress of movement is how the joints in the body (including those in the neck) are nurtured and hydrated. Since low grade inflammation in the body may increase the risk for neck pain, get plenty of sleep, manage stress, and eat more fruits and vegetables (and less processed food). If you have any questions on which neck-specific exercises may be most beneficial for your individual case, ask your doctor of chiropractic at your next visit.