How to Fix Cyclist’s ‘Tech Neck’

We're all guilty - that pain in the neck of semi-permanent connectivity wreaks havoc on our spine. Hold your head up high with these fixes.

By Jenny McCoy |

Take a moment to check in on your neck. How’s it feeling? Many people would likely answer “not great.” Many of us have neck pain and tightness due to the way we stare at screens, whether we’re playing Wordle on our phones, attending our millionth Zoom meeting of the day, or checking workout stats on our smart watch. And it’s made worse by cycling.

This type of discomfort is so common that there’s a term for it: “tech neck.” And it’s especially prevalent among cyclists, because the forward-leaning posture you hold in the saddle can reinforce poor neck positioning, says physical therapist Brando Lakes, D.P.T., orthopaedic certified specialist and co-founder of Kinesadelic in New York City. Tech neck, says Lakes, is “very problematic.”

The positive news: There are simple things you can do to alleviate tech neck and even stop it in its tracks. Ahead, everything you need to know, including the definition of tech neck, why it’s bad, and expert-backed advice for remedying the pain associated with it.

What is tech neck?

Tech neck is a generalised term for neck pain and tightness that is associated with the posture we maintain as we look at screens, phones, tablets, and computers, says physical therapist Elizabeth Lamontagne, P.T., D.P.T., assistant director at Recovery Physical Therapy in New York City.

Many of us crane our necks forward when staring at technology. And when we hold this position for a long time—say an hour or more—all the muscles that support the head can get tight on one end and overstretched on the other, explains Lamontagne. That, in turn, can cause muscle spasms and a whole host of other issues.

Unfortunately, most of us will likely experience tech neck at some point. It’s “pretty common,” says Lakes. “If you have a phone, there’s a good chance you’re gonna get tech neck.”

Why is tech neck bad?

If left untreated, tech neck can lead to semi-serious complications, says Lamontagne. Continuing to live with tech neck pain in the hopes that it will just go away can cause compensatory behaviors. For example, if your neck muscles get so tight that it doesn’t feel good to sit up straight, you might continuously sit in a hunched position and let your shoulders droop forward. The more your shoulders curve forward, the less space there is for your nerves. This could further exacerbate your pain and potentially pinch a nerve, Lamontagne explains.

Moreover, the pain can travel. So instead of just feeling pain in your neck, you may experience it in your shoulder, too, or in your head, says Lamontagne.

Additionally, tech neck can cause headaches, as well as numbness or tingling that extends down the arms into the fingers, says Lakes. If you feel numbness in your hands or fingers while you ride, it could be from tech neck, though it could also be caused by a nerve in your wrist getting compressed from the way you grip the handlebars, explains Lakes.

Tech neck can also make it easier for you to get whiplash and cause other unpleasant issues like carpal tunnel, shoulder impingement, and tennis elbow, he adds.

Now, tech neck won’t lead to anything severe enough to drive you to the emergency room, says Lamontagne. But, she adds, you may just end up going to the doctor because of unrelenting pain.

On that note, if your tech neck symptoms don’t resolve within a week, and doing gentle stretches or applying heat to the area doesn’t help, then you should probably see a doctor or physical therapist about the issue, says Lamontagne.

How do you prevent tech neck?

Tech neck can lead to a lot of discomfort. But there are small things you can do to prevent it.

You’ve heard this before but it always helps to get a reminder: If you work a sedentary job, set a goal of getting up every 60 minutes so that you’re not in a repetitive posture for more than an hour, says Lamontagne. Taking even a moment to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, or do a quick stretch can help.

You can also look into getting your desk set up ergonomically, which can help improve your posture. If you use a laptop, this might mean propping up your laptop so that the screen is at eye level and then getting an external keyboard, so you don’t have to hold your arms at an uncomfortably high angle to type.

If you use two screens, consider switching to just one wider monitor so you won’t have to turn your head back and forth at weird angles.

It can also help to have a desk that’s set to the height of your elbows when you’re sitting and your elbows are bent at a comfortable 90- to 100-degree angle, says Lamontagne. Standing desks, set to elbow height when you’re standing, are another good option, she adds.

You may also consider any number of electronic gizmos that vibrate whenever you slouch or jut your head forward, explains Lakes. Or a posture corrector, which is worn like a backpack and helps pull your shoulder blades together. “It’s kind of hard to allow that head to come forward when those shoulder blades are being pulled back,” says Lakes.

Exercises to prevent and treat tech neck

In addition to the above tips, there are simple exercises you can do to prevent tech neck or treat the aches associated with it.

Below are two expert-recommended sequences—the first sequence is from Lakes; the second is from Lamontagne. These sequences loosen muscles that get tight with tech neck and allow you to reset your posture so you don’t get pinched nerves or muscles spasms.

How to use this list: These moves are gentle enough that you can do them every day. Do each exercise for the number of reps and sets listed below. You’ll need a resistance band and foam roller for the first sequence.

Sequence 1

Standing Bicep Stretch

Stand in front of and facing a wall and place right hand on the wall at shoulder level. Extend arm and place palm completely flat against wall with fingers pointing right. Now, turn entire body to the left, and feel a stretch from right fingers all the way up to right shoulder. Drop left ear to left shoulder to intensify the stretch. If you feel numbness or tingling, curl fingers or take palm off the wall and form a fist instead. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds, or as long as it feels good. Switch sides and repeat.

Shoulder Ts

This move can be done standing up or lying faceup on the floor. Start by holding a resistance band in both hands with arms extended directly out in front, at shoulder height. (You can grip the band with palms up or down, depending on what feels good to you.) This is the starting position. Pull the band apart to squeeze shoulder blades together. Hold, then gently release to return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Foam Roller Extension

Lie faceup with a foam roller positioned horizontally across spine near shoulder blades. Cup head with hands and glue hips to the floor. Allow gravity to gently carry head and shoulders over the foam roller. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds, or however long feels good.

Sequence 2

Standing Wall Stretch

Stand against and facing away from a wall so that head, upper torso, and hands are touching the wall. (Aim for backs of hands against the wall, but see how palms feel against the wall, too.) Position feet slightly away from the wall. Set shoulders back against the wall and open up chest. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Release. Then repeat 1 or 2 more times.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

From a standing or seated position, drop right ear towards right shoulder and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretch on the left side of neck. Repeat, dropping left ear to left shoulder. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. You can gently place opposite hand on head to deepen the stretch.

Pec Doorway Stretch

Stand in front of a doorway and bring arms into a goal post position with fingers pointed up and elbows bent to 90 degrees. Place forearms on either side of the doorway and step one foot forward until you feel a stretch in chest. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch stance so the other foot is forward and repeat for another 20 to 30 seconds. You can also do this one side at a time against a wall (as shown).

Subscapularis Doorway Stretch

This stretch is similar to the one above, but instead of goal post position, keep elbows in at sides. Extend forearms straight out from elbows with palms facing forward. Place both palms on either side of the doorway and step through with one foot until you feel a gentle stretch in rotator cuff. (You may also feel a light stretch in chest.) Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch stance so the other foot is forward and repeat for another 20 to 30 seconds. You can also do this one side at a time against a wall (as shown).

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