Telephone Neck Syndrome - Stop it with a Phone Headset

Its causes and prevention By Y. Raphiell Nolin, LMT

Telephone Neck Syndrome (TNS) is a widespread malady in our busy modern world, where almost everybody uses a telephone. While talking on the phone, we often "scrunch" the receiver between our ear and shoulder,so that we can use both hands to complete a task. Whether in the kitchen, the office or out in the yard, we sometimes spend many minutes, even hours in this position. The next day we wonder where that stiff, sore neck, headache or migraine came from.

When the neck is in this side bent position for any length of time, the muscles on the "scrunched" (holding the receiver) side contract and shorten. After a while the hypercontracted muscles become irritated, cutting off their own blood supply and may go into spasm. A viscous cycle of muscle spasm, pain, spasm can perpetuate itself indefinitely. Meanwhile, on the other side of the neck, the muscles lengthen and stretch. Although less common, some people experience pain on the overstretched side.

In the spine, the vertebrae compress along the lateral (outside) edge. This can squeeze the discs, which may cause them to bulge or rupture. Often there is tingling or numbness and pain traveling down the arm, into the hand and fingers.


Massage therapy, specifically targeting the hypercontracted and lengthened muscles, can bring great relief to a person suffering from TNS. Trigger point therapy or Neuromuscular therapy is very effective in treating the specific muscles involved, such as: sternocleidomastoid, levator scapula, scalenes and trapezius.

Sometimes a chiropractic adjustment is necessary when the vertebrae are out of alignment and "pinching" on a nerve. Usually a combination of massage therapy (to address the musculature) and chiropractic (to correct the spinal misalignment) is the most effective approach.

Application of cold (in the early acute stage) and heat (after a few days or when the condition is chronic) can also bring great relief. If the condition is very acute and painful, ibuprofen may be taken to reduce pain and inflammation.

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The best treatment for TNS is prevention. If you work at a job where you spend a considerable amount of time on the telephone, it would be wise to invest in a headset.

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