The Text Neck Epidemic
Our heads weighs about 10-11 pounds (4.5-5 kg). As the neck bends forward, the pressure of that weight on the cervical spine increases exponentially. At a 15-degree angle the effective weight is 27 lbs. and at a 60 degree angle it is 60 lbs. That’s as if an 8-year-old was sitting on your neck!
If you’re spending two-four hours/day (the average now) looking down at your phone, this results in 700 to 1,400 hours a year of excess stress on the cervical spine. No wonder our necks and spines are feeling a lot of extra burden…and pain.
I’m seeing many patients who don’t know why their neck pain keeps coming back. They’ve had no injury, but “text neck” is often to blame. Along with neck pain, they commonly complain of headaches, shoulder pain, dizziness, tingling and pain radiating into the arms.
A Growing Problem
There’s been a tremendous increase in these issues. Ideally, the spine forms a healthy cervical curve in the neck. Over the past twenty years, we saw an increase of people having a straightened neck. Now, even worse, we’re beginning to see the spine curved forward in the neck. Much of this comes from our daily patterns, such as bending forward to look at phones and computers.
As people are using their phones for an array of tasks, the hours (and pressure) add up. Now we’ve transferred tasks once done on tablets or computers to our phones. The heavier tablets had a major benefit, which was that you couldn’t comfortably hold it as long. Now, with a lightweight device full of handy apps and entertainment, we spend hours with our necks craned over the phone.
And, we’re only beginning to see the health effects. People in their 20s and 30s are suffering pain and problems that might be extremely debilitating by their 50s. With the pain and nerve damage, it is quite possible to imagine many people being unable to work eventually. When we look at X-rays for some of these young people, the images look like they are 30 years older. The problems could have disastrous effects for today’s youth. Studies estimate high schoolers may spend an additional 5,000 hours/year with the pressure of “text neck”.
Treatment for Text Neck
Treatment focuses on stretching the muscles. The muscles are tightened from being overworked in an unnatural way. Many people experience spasms. The stress on joints leads to inflamed nerves. I work to realign the joints for proper movement. We use mirror imaging postures to rebalance the muscles. Patients can continue exercises and stretches on their own. For example, they can use a big pillow to stretch and arch the back.
Don’t delay getting treatment if you are feeling discomfort. If you experience tingling or numbness, nerve damage has already occurred. Make sure to get the problem assessed and treated before it leads to further damage.
Prevention & Maintenance
Most importantly, people need to avoid bending the neck to look at the phone for such prolonged periods. Anything that can be done to break the habit and reduce the time the neck is under pressure helps. Use your eyes more, rather than changing your body/neck position. The more you reduce the angle, the less weight your neck has to hold. Keep your phone in your bag or pocket when doing other activities. Try listening to audio rather than watching/reading something for entertainment. Alternate between doing things on your phone and computer.
Develop awareness of your posture. Stretch and move regularly. Rebalance muscles with a mirroring posture (i.e. stretching the neck and arms backward).
Herman Szeto is a pain management specialist who offers a variety of chiropractic treatments such as soft tissue and joint manipulation. He also educates patients on ergonomics and posture and other lifestyle modifications. Contact us to schedule an appointment with him.