You may have heard the term “Text Neck” in the news, on social media, or in a discussion among friends. Although this condition is increasingly discussed, it has yet to be taken very seriously. A number of our patients complain of the symptoms of this condition, though not all of them believe their neck pain began with staring at their phones. Text Neck is very real and poses a serious risk.
Text Neck is a result of staring down or staying hunched over an activity for too long. This posture isn’t exactly new; people have done this for centuries with books, drawings, sewing, and many other activities. The condition is referred to as “Text Neck” because the saturation of mobile devices, and our cultural addiction to them, have multiplied the amount of time we spend hunched over.
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How Much Does Your Head Weigh?
Your head weighs, on average, around 10 pounds. With a healthy spine, you never have to think about that weight; your neck manages it with ease. As you bend your neck forward, the stress on your cervical spine increases exponentially. Some experts say that the stress on your cervical spine doubles with every inch your head tilts down.
While you’re staring down at your shiny new phone, the stress on your cervical spine has increased to 50 pounds! Now take into account that you could spend around three hours a day staring at your phone and it adds up to extreme stress on your neck.
10 pounds of pressure
15-25 pounds of pressure
35-50 pounds of pressure
You’ve probably been staring at your device for years and haven’t noticed any problems. That’s where this condition’s insidious nature is important to understand. Its effects are subtle but cumulative. Text Neck has been linked to headaches, neurological issues, depression, and heart disease. These symptoms can creep up on you slowly, but chances of a negative impact on your health increase each time you hunch over your phone.
Maybe most alarming is how often we’ve seen this behavior in kids and young adults whose spines are still developing.
What Are the Symptoms of Text Neck?
Stretching your body’s tissue for extended periods of time causes it to become sore and inflamed. Repeated stress on the vertebrae can also lead to herniated disks, pinched nerves, and eventually improper curvature of the spine.
Text neck most commonly causes neck pain and soreness. In addition, looking down at your cell phone too much each day can lead to:
Upper back pain ranging from a chronic, nagging pain to sharp, severe upper back muscle spasms.
Shoulder pain and tightness, possibly resulting in painful shoulder muscle spasm.
If a cervical nerve becomes pinched, pain and possibly neurological symptoms can radiate down your arm and into your hand (known as cervical radiculopathy).
Text neck may also possibly lead to chronic problems due to early onset of arthritis in the neck.
Can Text Neck Be Cured?
The symptoms and pain of text neck can be managed with treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication and interventional treatments. Reversing the underlying causes of the symptoms is also possible with a long-term program of postural corrections, physical therapy, and (when necessary) pain management therapies. If your pain is less severe you can make a few changes to your device-viewing habits to correct your posture and allow the effected structures to regain strength and normal range of motion.
When you get a couple of minutes during your day, stop to stretch your neck and reset your brain. Tilt your head from left to right a few times. Look over your left shoulder, and then slowly turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Roll your shoulders and neck. Anything you can do to get those stiff muscles moving will pay off.
Hold your phone higher
Holding your device higher and bending your neck less can dramatically reduce the strain on your cervical spine. Holding your device in this way can also improve your situational awareness.
Set it Down
So while this is maybe easier said than done, it’s nonetheless important to put the phone down every once in a while. Maybe a text message gets missed, but the benefit to your health and wellness will be worth it in the long run.
The message we hope to leave with our patients suffering from this type of neck pain is this: be mindful of your posture — whether you’re looking at the phone, watching TV, working at a computer, or reading a book – and remind yourself to straighten and stretch your neck. Some mindfulness and stretching will go a long way toward preventing long-term damage to your spine and neck.