Definition: Text neck is a term commonly used for a repetitive stress injury where excessive texting or mobile device use is believed to be the primary cause.
Smart phones have really changed the way we live life.
With a tap and a swipe, we have more ways to connect and we have access to amazing amounts of information. Our ability to connect- with people, work and the world- has made our lives easier, yet at the same time harder. As a whole, people are spending an enormous amount of time on phones and computers. This can creates pain in the neck and upper back, headaches and, at times, jaw pain. In combination with a society that is overworked, stressed out, has low physical activity and minimal body awareness- this creates an ideal situation for a body that is not healthy and more prone to pain. As a chiropractor, “neck pain” is one of the most common complaints I hear from of my patients.
But we can’t escape the smart phone! So, with all this use of a smart phone and looking down more than we ever have, that must mean text neck is for real and the cause of neck pain, right?
Yes.... and no. Let me explain.
If our head and neck are looking down for extended amounts of time it causes muscles to become fatigued and tighten up. Your neck also becomes flattened, or sometimes the curve reverses which is bad for the neck joints. Lastly, the discs in your neck become compressed and could eventually lead to bulging discs, possibly even herniation.
Pain is a sign
Most pain results from repetitive actions/stress that place wear and tear on your body and posture. We often get early warning signs of pain that alerts us that something is happening that is not good. This is when your average person is feeling tight muscles regularly or your joints feel stiff which makes it more difficult to turn your head, bend at your hips to put your pants on, or put a shirt on over your head.
Pain is a symptom and usually starts when the system breaks down, when your body can no longer compensate to the wear and tear stresses that you are placing upon it. In essence, your body has compensated so long that it can no longer help you!
So yes, if my neck is forward like the picture above for days, weeks, months or years and pain is occurring there is a high likelihood you have text neck happening.
But what I want you to understand is- other areas of your posture can be just as detrimental to your neck and may be the actual cause of your neck pain.
Are you siting at a computer all day?
Repetitive action/stress happens when someone is sitting in one position for extended amounts of time, when you are constantly firing stabilizing muscles to hold the spinal position you are in. Sitting in school all day long with your head buried in the books or work that involves sitting on a computer and typing for hours are examples.
Postural problems contribute to neck pain
These sedentary positions all will create postures that are unhealthy, muscles that are tight, and bone joints placed in compressive positions. Basically, repetitive positions and postures will eventually create pain. Now add the smart phone to an already unhealthy posture and more positions where our heads are looking down reading emails, searching the internet, and texting friends. This only compounds the already existing issues that so many of us have as we age.
These bad postures can create what we call anterior head carriage, or a person with their head forward.
As you can see in the diagram above, every aspect of your spine (thoracic and lumbar regions) can influence your head and neck.
Consider that your head being forward may actually come from your low back. When your lower back flattens out or increases the normal curvature, the opposite end of the spine, your neck and head, will counter it to keep your center of gravity of your body. You see this very often with the elderly (flat pelvis). If you have really rounded shoulders as a result of dominating pectoral muscles if often results in pitching your head forward. Think of a body builder who wants those big pecs, or how about the person who sits for hours after work watching television on a couch that is too soft, creating a slump posture. This is something that needs to be addressed along with decreased phone use.
How you can counteract text neck and bad posture
Hold your phone at eye level, not down in your lap
Sit in a chair with your bottom scooted all the way back against the backrest
Get up from sitting every 1-2 hours and walk a little or grab a snack
Do pectoral stretches, do press ups (like cobra in yoga), use the foam roller for your spine, exercise your latissimus muscles, exercise your gluteal muscles. Extension exercises should be the main focus.
Minimize computer and phone use
Ergonomically set up your computer stations or study environment to have your feet on the floor and computer at eye level, so you are looking straight ahead with your neck in a neutral position.
So, if you have text neck don’t assume it is a simple fix if you stop/minimize use of your phone.That is only one part of the solution, and frankly unrealistic. You may need more help than just the suggestions here, especially if neck pain has become chronic. Consider an appointment with a Chiropractor or Manual Physical Therapist to get an assessment and treatment for the underlying causes that are really causing that neck pain.
Coy Roskosky, D.C.,, "Dr. Coy," is a highly skilled chiropractor in the Washington D.C. area specializing in chronic pain of the neck, back shoulder, knee etc., sports injuries and performance, carpal tunnel syndrome and TMJ. He uses many techniques including Applied Kinesiology (AK), Sacro Occipital Technique (SOT), Active Release Technique (ART), and Activator in his chiropractic practice at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA.