Virtually unheard of a couple of years ago, “text neck” is the new term doctors are using to describe the injuries and pain sustained from looking down at wireless devices for prolonged periods. Chronic headaches, upper back pain, shoulder strain, neck pain, and increased curvature of the spine are occurring as a result of neck pain in most tech device users, even in teenagers and adolescents.
In fact, according to Kenneth Hansraj, the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine and author of a new study, teens are especially vulnerable to this new ailment. “The problem is really profound in young people,” he said. “With this excessive stress in the neck, we might start seeing young people needing spine care. I would really like to see parents showing more guidance.”
Today’s teens are spending nearly 8 hours a day online, and most of their browsing is done on mobile devices. A 2011 study by Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that more than three-quarters of all teens have cellphones, which is an increase from the 45 percent of teens who owned cellphones back in 2004. Whether to text, check their Facebook profile, play games, or listen to music, teens are barely getting time off from their devices – and this has devastating effects on their physical and mental health.
Texting under a Load of Pain
Spending hours at a time looking down at our electronic devices, while holding the head forward from its neutral position, causes the weight on the cervical spine to increase with the angle. For instance, at a 15-degree angle, the weight of the head, which is about 10-12 pounds in neutral position, increases to 27 pounds; at 30 degrees, it increases to 40 pounds, and at 60 degrees, to 60 pounds.
The stress and strain put on the spine is similar to that of carrying an 8-year-old on the shoulders several hours per day. Considering that the average smartphone user spending 2-4 hours daily on their phone, this amounts to 700 to 1,400 hours per year of applying a huge pressure on the neck muscles, ligaments, and nerves. And it gets even worse in the case of high-school students, who may spend a whopping 5,000 hours additionally in this unnatural position.
Among the chief complaints of text neck sufferers are:
- Pain in the neck, shoulders, and lower back
- Pain in the fingers, arms, wrists, and elbows
- Numbness and tingling of lower extremities
- Chronic headaches
As the head inches forward and the shoulders get rounded, neck muscles start getting sore and inflamed, leading to muscle strain, pinched nerves, and herniated discs. In the long run, it can remove the neck’s natural curvature and cause permanent damage to the spine.
What to Do to Protect Yourself and Your Kids from Text Neck
Although staring down at your phone for prolonged periods can wreak havoc on your spine, the pain can easily be alleviated, and the damage reversed, by making simple changes to your posture and lifestyle.
Start by taking frequent breaks from your mobile device. Since text neck is a repetitive strain injury, bringing your neck back in neutral position by looking up from the screen once every 15 minutes can help prevent it. The strain can also be reduced by looking down at your device with your eyes instead of bending the neck and slouching the shoulders.
Improve your posture. Improving your posture is a great way of nixing neck pain. Learn how to sit properly by studying your profile in the mirror: if you are standing correctly, your ears, shoulders, and hips should be aligned.
Exercise frequently. For instance, stand in a doorway with the arms extended and push your chest forward to strengthen the muscles that support a healthy posture. Shoulder extensions and certain posture-focused exercises such as yoga and pilates will also help put your shoulder muscles into alignment.
Visit a chiropractor. Chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy are great tools to help improve your spinal joint movements and limit the effects of forward head posture. Your chiropractor can design a treatment plan to help relieve pain and regain mobility and also suggest exercises to help prevent future injury.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.