Recent studies have shown 79% of people between the ages of 18 and 44 have their cellphones on them almost all the time- spending on average only 2 hours of the time of their day awake without them.
Becoming an increasingly common problem, “Text Neck”, coined by US chiropractor Dr. DL Fishman, refers to neck pain and damage caused from looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other cellular device too frequently or for too long. As prolonged cell phone use grows in prevalence, neck and upper back pain in younger patients (as well as disc herniations and abnormal kyphotic alignment from increased chronic intradiscal pressure) are becoming more common.
Evidence seems to support that persistent neck pain and upper back pain is associated with time spent texting. Excessive stress on your cervical spine can cause accelerated disc degeneration. Tilting your head forward from texting too much can throw a lot of unwanted load and stress in your cervical spine.
The average human head weights 10-12 lbs. With your head in a neutral position, only 10-12 lbs of force is placed on the neck. As you tilt your head forward, the load on the neck significantly increases(27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.) As the majority of the population on constantly looking down at their phone several hours per day, increased load over time can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain, upper back pain and poor posture.
A Few General Symptoms of Text Neck
Apart from neck pain, Text Neck can also show symptoms of:
- Upper back pain ranging from a chronic, nagging pain to sharp, severe upper back muscle spasms depending on the severity
- Increased thoracic kyphosis (hunchback)
- Shoulder pain and tightness
- If a cervical nerve becomes pinched, pain and possibly neurological symptoms can radiate down your arm and into your hand.
- If left untreated, inflammation of the neck ligaments and nerve irritation
A Note on Neck pain
It’s important to understand that neck pain isn’t necessarily only caused from texting. Disc degeneration is a typical cause of neck and upper back pain, although neck pain is also very common in people with no disc degeneration. The strongest factors associated with disc degeneration are genetics and aging.
Preventing text neck?
A few tips you can take into mind to make sure you don’t place excessive load on your neck includes:
1. Hold up your cell phone up at or near your eye level while texting
2. Look down at your phone with your eyes, not your neck
3. Correct your posture to avoid unnecessary tissue damage
4. Take frequent breaks from your phone and laptop throughout the day
5. If you work in an office or at a desk, make sure your screen is set up so that when you look at it you are looking forward, with your head positioned squarely in line with your shoulders and spine
6. Avoid prolonged static postures (sitting in one position for too long)
What can I do to help my neck pain?
If you think you already have text neck or are experiencing neck pain symptoms, some things you can do to help yourself are:
- Regular neck mobility and strength exercises that help minimize strain on your cervical spine and help support the weight of your head
- Making changes to your posture while texting or looking at a computer screen
- Ice, heat packs, or massage to help relieve pain
A physiotherapist or kinesiologist can help improve your posture, and help mobilize and strengthen your neck, shoulder and upper back muscles to reduce the pain and discomfort caused by text neck.