Table of Contents
- Modern Day Medical Issue
- Creating Neck Pain through Poor Posture
- Symptoms of Smartphone Neck
- Keep the Spine Aligned from Top to Bottom
- Prevention of Text Neck
- Taking Care of the Neck
There are several apps that collect statistics on smartphone use, like RescueTime. The company’s research found that people spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes per day on their smartphones and check their phones 58 times a day.
Techjury research found that more than six billion text messages are sent daily in the United States. So much smartphone use is leading to increased rates of medical conditions called smartphone neck, a repetitive strain injury, and overuse syndrome – both due to frequently bending or twisting the neck while hunched over.
Modern Day Medical Issue
It is only in the last decade that text neck was recognized as an emerging medical problem for people of all ages who frequently use their smartphone, especially for frequent texters. The repetitive injury condition occurs because of bad posture.
When people text, they usually drop the head which means:
- The neck moves into a forward position
- The shoulders are either lifted up toward the ears or rounded forward in a hunched position
- The muscles in the neck and shoulder area contract
- The weight load on the muscles is more than doubled
- A hunched position negatively impacts lung capacity
- A hunched position may cause problems with internal systems like digestion and blood flow
Looking down at the phone is poor posture. It is the same problem people have when doing any job or task requiring frequent neck bending.
Creating Neck Pain through Poor Posture
Improper smartphone posture is a modern day medical issue, reflecting the increasing use of cell phones by children and adults alike. It is not just texting that leads to neck pain. Smartphone neck is occurring in children and teens who play games for hours and people who frequently surf the web or frequently read a computer screen that is not set at eye level.
The neck structure is designed to hold the weight of the human head which is 10-12 pounds when the spine is aligned. To keep the spine aligned, the head must be in a neutral position which means the ears are positioned over the shoulders. Research has shown that for every inch the head is tilted, the spine experiences double the pressure.
Symptoms of Smartphone Neck
Looking down at a phone sitting in a lap equates to at least 20-30 pounds of pressure on the neck and can reach up to 50-60 pounds the closer the chin gets to the chest. The neck muscles are stretched, the neck vertebrae (cervical spine) are out of alignment with the rest of the spine and the spine and back muscles are strained.
Maintaining a posture that regularly produces these effects can lead to:
- Inflammation in the neck muscles, ligaments and/or tendons
- Spinal disc herniation
- Muscle strain or fatigue
- Pinched nerves
- Changes in the natural curvature of the cervical spine
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Pain in the spine when looking down
- Problems with digestion due to additional pressure placed on internal organs
- Problems with breathing
Neck phone pain that is due to looking down too often and too long, causing a pinched cervical nerve, can also result in cervical radiculopathy. This is pain that radiates down the arm and as far as the hand, but the source of the pain is in the neck. Persistent poor posture can even lead to the early onset of arthritis.
Neck pain from phone use can vary from a nagging mild pain to chronic pain.
Keep the Spine Aligned from Top to Bottom
Neck problems from cell phones are first addressed by improving posture while using technology. A proper posture while texting, talking on the phone or working on a computer requires:
- Keeping feet flat on the floor
- Keeping the ears over the shoulder
- Keeping the shoulders back
- Not tilting the head forwards
- Sitting up straight
It takes awareness and practice to maintain a good posture throughout the day’s activities.
Prevention of Text Neck
Many times, smartphone neck pain and other symptoms, like headaches, are fully relieved by maintaining a good posture. It depends on whether a person has bent the neck over time to the point more serious problems, like arthritis, have developed. The best plan of action is to prevent smartphone neck by following a simple prevention plan.
Medical conditions like a pinched nerve and arthritis may require more aggressive medical treatments. However, keeping the spine aligned to minimize smartphone neck pain will also help with pain that is due to a different medical problem in the neck area. In addition, exercises addressing the neck phone issue can reduce inflammation in the neck and shoulders, benefitting any inflammatory condition that is present.
Preventing text neck requires changes in behavior:
- Ensuring the technology viewed is aligned with the eyes and does not require bending the neck, i.e. hold the cell phone higher, raise the computer screen, etc.
- Taking regular breaks from sitting throughout the day, preferably at least 5 minutes per hour
- Stretching stiff neck muscles with simple exercises
- Learning some yoga exercises because they focus on restoring muscle imbalances and improving movement through increased flexibility
- Taking regular phone breaks
- Getting regular exercise to maintain strong neck, shoulder and back muscles
If work requires a lot of sitting and smartphone use, even a few minutes each hour without phone use can help prevent a repetitive use injury or overuse syndrome.
Exercises specifically for text neck are designed to increase mobility of the neck. They are easy to do and can be done at work and at home. For example, the exaggerated head nod only requires repeatedly moving the head down to the chest and then as far back as possible to loosen muscles, tendons and ligaments. The side-to-side head tilt is another simple neck stretching exercise.
Taking Care of the Neck
It is easy to ignore the neck until a problem like text neck develops. Living with a stiff neck, frequent headaches and any king of pain can restrict a person from enjoying life activities and prevent being comfortable at work. Smartphone neck is preventable by taking simple steps. Be mindful of posture during all activities.
If pain persists or worsens, despite efforts to keep neck muscles flexible, it is important to see a physician for assessment. More in-depth medical testing can determine if a different medical condition has developed.