Diagnosis: Text Neck
BY: Dr. Rachel Steiner
“Text Neck”, definitely a condition coined in the past decade among health care professionals when describing the symptoms of their patients. With the advancement of technology and more frequent complaints of neck pain, shoulder pain, and headaches, this new term is only going to be seen more often. Text Neck is the term used to describe neck pain and damage caused by looking down at your cell phone, tablet, and/or other forms of technology too frequent and for long periods of time. According to statistics, Americans are spending a staggering average of 4.7 hours on their cell phones or tablet devices a day. Considering the average person gets 8 hours of sleep, we are spending over a third of our day on our “handheld lifelines”. The constant bending of your neck forward has been going on long before cellphones for things such as reading, but the problem is technology is adding one more activity that is leading to these musculoskeletal problems.
Symptoms of “Text Neck” include neck pain and upper back pain that is sharp in nature, muscle spasms, headaches, shoulder pain and tightness, and in severe cases causes neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling into ones arm and fingers due to nerve entrapment. Our bodies were designed to have a curve in the neck that develops and is strengthened when we are babies that keeps our head upright. The purpose of the curve is to keep pressure off our discs, nerves, and bones. The consistent flexion or bending of the neck over time can change ones posture that causes loss of the crucial curve in the neck that we were designed to have. The muscles running from the base of skull, down the back of the neck, and even to the shoulder area become weakened and stretched and can lead to chronic headaches and muscle spasm.
As a chiropractor, I am seeing this condition more often in the office. Examining x-rays of a healthy neck, there is a visible curve that is present and the spaces where the discs sit are evenly open through the neck. On the flip side, someone with text neck has an alarmingly straight neck with a loss of the important curve. The average adult head weighs between 10-12 pounds, and when the head is tilted forward and constantly looking down at technology, this increases the gravitational pull on the neck and supporting muscles. This applies a great deal of pressure to this delicate area of the spine and the force is equivalent to 60 pounds of extra weight.
Technology is not going anywhere- social media, text messaging, and gaming is making us more addictive to our devices than ever. So what can we do about it to decrease the risk of damage to our precious spine? Because, we can buy new technology but our spine is irreplaceable. The first tip is no slouching. Not only are we looking down at our devices but usually hunched forward as well. Bring your phone or tablet to eye level. This will be very uncomfortable at first but your body will get used to it and it will save your neck. Strengthening and stretching your muscles can help alleviate the nagging pain caused from “text neck”, visit your chiropractor or physical therapist to learn exercises that will help your posture.
Lastly, if you are a parent and have control over how much your children are using technology, limit their time on their devices. Childhood are crucial years for spinal and muscular development and their activities and posture at even a young age are setting them up for the rest of their lives.