On your phone too much? "Text neck": A digital age concern

If you’ve ever taken the time to have a quick look around when you’re out and about, this picture might look familiar to you. 

By now we’ve all heard the term ‘text neck’. The expression has been around for a while and it certainly paints a picture and makes us think. Most of us know that it’s not great to spend a lot of time looking down at our devices. But in this day and age it’s hard to escape! 

So what symptoms can ‘text neck’ cause, and how can we help avoid them while remaining in the modern digital age?

Much of the problem exists due to the flexed position of the spine in our necks when we look down at our phones. In the neutral position, our spine bears approximately 5kg of weight. But neck flexion has been shown to increase the weight of our heads quite significantly. According to research, 30 degrees of flexion places 18 kg of weight through our spine and by flexing our neck 60 degrees, we hold up to 27 kg of weight. Having trouble picturing how much that is? Well the average 8-year-old child weighs approximately 27kg, so imagine lugging that around your neck every time you use your phone.

All that extra weight places repeated and prolonged stress on the spine as well as supporting ligaments, tendons and muscles. This in turn can cause a wide range of symptoms including neck pain, upper back pain, headaches and shoulder pain.

The chronic long term effects of ‘text neck’ are also being looked into. New research is even suggesting a link between forward leaning postures and an increase in the mid back curvature known as hyperkyphosis. This is concerning as there is an association between hyperkyphosis, pulmonary disease and cardiovascular problems. 

A lot of the concern over ‘text neck’ comes from the fact that the main users of electronic devices are adolescents and young people. One of the original studies to explore this condition was conducted by Dr Hansraj in 2014. It explored the consequences of ‘text neck’ and suggested that on average, smartphone users spend two to four hours per day hunched over their phones. This equates to between 700 and 1400 hours a year. The study predicted that high-schoolers are in an even worse situation, using their phones up to an additional 5000 hours per year. So it’s really no wonder that all these problems are starting even earlier in the group of people who may have otherwise been symptom free.

But don’t worry, there’s a lot we can do to help ourselves!

Try holding your devices at eye level as much as possible. By doing this you can lessen the flexed position of your neck and in turn reduce the weight transferring through the spine. Additionally, the classic tip of taking frequent breaks is extremely beneficial. It can be easy to forget to do this one so a great way to remind yourself is to set an alarm on your phone for every 20 minutes. 

It’s also a good idea to consistently move your spine through its ranges of motion. For example, looking all the way left and right, then tilting your head both ways helps keep as much movement in the spine as possible. 

These are some really simple things that you and your family can start doing today. 

Chiropractors are also in a really good position to help assess and treat the effects of postural imbalances that might occur from conditions such as ‘text neck’. If you, or someone you know would like more information about how we can help, please contact the Shirley Rd Chiropractic team.  

References:

1. Fares, J, Fares M.Y., Fares Y. 2017. Musculoskeletal neck pain in children and adolescents: Risk factors and complications. Surgical Neurology International. 8, 72.

2. Hansraj, KK. 2014. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International. 25:277-9. 

3. Cuellar, J.M. Todd. Lanman, H. 2017. “Text Neck”: an epidemic of the modern era of cell phones? The Spine Journal. 17:6: 901-902. 

4. Gustafsson, E. Thomee, S. Grimby-Ekman, A. Hagberg, M. 2017. Texting on mobile phones and musculoskeletal disorders in young adults: A five-year cohort study. Applied Ergonomics. 58: 208-214. 

5. Bever, L. The Washington Post. 2014. ‘Text Neck’ is becoming an ‘epidemic’ and could wreck your spine. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/20/text-neck-is-becoming-an-epidemic-and-could-wreck-your-spine/?utm_term=.50722155db18.

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