“Text Neck” Is a Growing Problem

The use of smartphones and other connected electronics has transformed our society in countless positive ways, but it has also led to a vexing and concerning medical phenomenon: more and more young people are seeking treatment for neck and upper back pain as a result of constantly looking down at their devices.

According to a study published in the professional publication The Spine Journal, the highly flexed postures that people looking at their phones exhibit is putting tremendous impact on their spines. The human body is constructed to maintain a neutral position, looking straight ahead. Bending down at a 15-degree flex can convert the weight of the head – normally 10 to 12 pounds – feel like it weighs 27 pounds. The further forward the body bends, the greater the pull on the spine.

The result is more than just poor posture and an aching neck. The study’s authors report that they are seeing the neck’s natural curve being reversed, disk hernias, and alignment problems, and since these problems are being experienced by young people, the outlook for their future is of great concern. The authors question whether 8-year olds who are currently experiencing pain will end up needing spine surgery by the time they’re in their twenties, as well as what the impact of this “text neck” will be on those whose spines are still developing and growing.

Poor posture as a result of electronic use is nothing new. The last several years have seen an upsurge in repetitive stress injuries from employees using computers in the workplace. To address the problem experts in ergonomics have developed elevated monitor stands to lift the head to its natural position. The problem of how to improve posture for smart phones is not as easily solved, as raising the phone to eye level creates a new problem – an elevated arm which can lead to shoulder strain. According to Gwanseob Shin of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology Ergonomics Lab in South Korea, the answer may be to simply walk away from using the phone for a while. “A more practical recommendation would be frequent rest breaks or some physical exercise that can strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles,” he says. “Some apps can give alarming signals to users to avoid prolonged looking-down posture.”

If you are starting to experience neck and back pain that you believe is related to your smartphone habits, the best remedy is to limit your use of the device. Short of that, there are stretches and exercises you can do to return your neck to its normal arc. Try lying on your back on your bed or a workout bench, allowing your head to hang over the edge and bend backward. When sitting upright, pay attention to your head and neck’s alignment with your spine: try the dancer’s trick of imagining yourself with a taut string attached to the top of your head, imagining the rest of your body in line with the upward pulling pressure.

If basic exercises and rest aren’t providing you with relief from text neck, contact our office today to set up a convenient consultation.

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