After suffering from seemingly random and unrelated symptoms with no relief in sight for his chronic pain, Jonathon Wu received a surprising diagnosis. 

A 34-year-old construction coordinator, Jonathon Wu was an active young man who enjoyed cycling and running. He also loved his challenging job which involved going for site visits and managing construction workers at various building sites across Singapore. Before the pandemic, he frequently travelled to countries such as Germany, to attend business meetings. 

In late 2020, when Jonathon was just 30 years old, he began experiencing severe stomach pain after meals. He initially attempted to manage the discomfort by eliminating dairy and spicy foods from his diet. However, his bowel symptoms worsened, leading to constant stomach aches and frequent toilet visits. He underwent an endoscopy and was told that he had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)  

Over the following year, his diarrhoea and stomach pain intensified, accompanied by the development of excruciating neck pain. He also suffered from interrupted sleep cycles and lethargy, due to having to work with clients across different time zones. 

“I assumed the neck pains were due to my poor posture while cycling. But at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, I started to experience other symptoms such as dizziness and vertigo, especially when I made sudden movements like standing up too quickly. The lockdown also led to many more hours spent on the computer and frequent phone calls, as well as a decline in physical activity,” says Jonathon. 

During this period, he had developed the habit of cradling his handphone against one side of his neck while taking business calls which could take up to an hour each time. This worsened his neck pain, eventually interfering with his sleep and causing debilitating headaches.  

“I was experiencing such pain and discomfort on a daily basis that they impaired my ability to engage in conversation with family. I was also constantly feeling light-headed. Despite my attempts to alleviate the discomfort with different pillows and painkillers, my headaches persisted and escalated to the point where I could not even drive.”  

An unexpected diagnosis  

Concerned with his worsening symptoms, Jonathon decided to seek medical advice. He was admitted to Farrer Park Hospital in Singapore for a comprehensive medical examination by a neurologist and an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist. During his month-long stay, he underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomographic (CT) scans as well as ultrasounds, but no abnormalities were detected. He was prescribed painkillers when he was discharged but he continued to grapple with persistent bowel issues at home.

“As the pandemic intensified, and travel restrictions and social-distancing measures were implemented, I was tasked to oversee the welfare of migrant construction workers. I had to engage in heavy lifting on-site, which aggravated my neck and back pain. Eventually, I reached a breaking point and informed my employer that I was unable to work anymore,” shares Jonathon. 

By 2022, his vertigo had become unbearable, so he sought medical attention at Mount Alvernia Hospital, where additional tests were conducted by a gastroenterologist to identify the underlying cause of his symptoms.  

Dr Bernard Lee, Singapore Paincare Center

Dr Bernard Lee, Singapore Paincare Center

Jonathon continues, “I was introduced to Dr Bernard Lee from the Singapore Paincare Center at this time, when I had already exhausted all other medical avenues and at my wit’s end trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I decided to visit Dr Lee, and after a quick physical examination of my shoulders, I was informed that I was most likely suffering from a condition called Tech Neck Syndrome and fibromyalgia.” 

 “Dr Lee explained to me how poor posture and bad habits such as prolonged straining of my neck muscles while I was on the phone, had aggravated the inflammation in my nerves. This was identified as the underlying cause of all my pain. I was surprised and shocked – I had never even heard of Tech Neck Syndrome and never suspected that my poor neck posture was the cause of all my suffering,” adds Jonathon. 

 What is TNS? 

TNS, also known as Tech Neck Syndrome, is a group of symptoms resulting from prolonged use of electronic devices, particularly smartphones, tablets, and computers.   

TNS is a repetitive stress injury to the neck caused by holding the head in a forward and downward position for extended periods of time. Your head can weigh 27 to 60 pounds, and depending on how forward your head’s position is in relation to your neck, holding an incorrect or extended posture for an extended period of time can increase the weight of the head on the neck muscles by as much as six times. Over time, this can cause tension in the neck and shoulder muscles, which can develop into stiffness and pain. If not checked and treated early, TNS can lead to inflammation of the soft tissues of the neck, spine degeneration and changes to the spine curvature .

In a survey conducted in Singapore involving more than 500 young adults aged 21 to 29, over 80% of the respondents reported spending three or more hours daily on mobile phones and tablets. Alarmingly, around 60% of these individuals experienced neck and back pain after device use, yet only 11% accurately identified TNS as the cause of their discomfort.  

A solution for the pain 

Following Dr Lee’s diagnosis of his condition, Jonathon was recommended to undergo platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy the following day, where the injections were administered in the back of his neck, shoulders and upper back. Jonathon remained in the hospital for two days after the procedure. 

In just two weeks following the procedure, Jonathon noticed a significant improvement in his symptoms. His neck and shoulder pain gradually subsided; his headaches became less intense and frequent, decreasing from three times a week to twice a month, and eventually ceasing altogether. His bowel pains and diarrhoea also ceased, which led him to return to the favourite foods he had foregone before as he thought they had contributed to his chronic pain.  To his surprise, consuming these foods no longer triggered discomfort or pain in his stomach. 

Jonathon has since undergone two rounds of PRP with Dr Lee, and adopted better posture and work habits.  

“I have stopped cradling using my neck to cradle my phone while I am working. I also refrain from leaning back and putting my feet up on the desk while working from home – as I now understand the strain this can cause on my spine. I have also made the decision from using a laptop to a more ergonomic desktop workstation setup, which has tremendously reduced the strain on my neck and back,” he explains. 

 

“Regular physiotherapy sessions at a clinic have also become part of my routine, where I have been receiving guidance on correcting my posture, and learn how to perform gentle stretching exercises. I have been seeing Dr Lee for follow-ups to monitor my overall progress.” 

Today, Jonathon continues to thrive in his career, armed with newfound knowledge and a commitment to self-care. Jonathon’s story serves as a reminder of the importance of mindfulness in using technology and the impact of poor posture on musculoskeletal health for those of us who rely heavily on technology in our everyday lives. 

Jonathon’s featured photo courtesy of Jonathon Wu.
Dr Bernard Lee’s photo courtesy of Dr Bernard Lee.