Avoiding "Text Neck"
Wander around town, and you’ll see people sitting or standing around, staring down at their cell phones or tablets. Their heads are bowed down; their chins thrust forward, and their necks straining under the weight of their skull.
Big deal, right? Actually, it is.
Spine surgeons and chiropractors alike are getting more practice members who complain from head, arm, and shoulder pain due to a concept experts are calling “text neck,” the pushed-forward, head-bowed posture people adopt when looking at cell phones and tablets (and sometimes laptops).
This downward-looking gaze puts excess pressure on the spine. How much pressure? According to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, MD, chief of spinal surgery at New York Surgery & Rehabilitative Medicine, the head, when positioned in a neutral position (looking up, head back and resting evenly on the spine) weighs about 10-12 pounds. As the neck moves forward for looking down, the head weight increases, and the pressure on the neck increases from 10-12 pounds to 27, 45, and even up to 60 pounds! Because the neck and spine are designed to handle the 10-12 pound stress, increased stress over prolonged periods causes damage to the nerves and muscles, resulting in the following symptoms:
- Chronic headaches
- Weakened immune system
- Less adaptability to stress
- Upper back, neck, and shoulder pain
- Increased spinal curvature
Increased spinal curvature can cause the spinal cord to stretch. This stretching can cause demyelination of the optic nerve and spinal cord. Demyelination is commonly seen in practice members with multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, this spinal curvature can cause slumping of the shoulders, eventually resulting in a “hump back” posture that is painful, not to mention aesthetically displeasing.
Caring for Text Neck
The easiest way to care for text neck is to avoid having it. Hold electronic devices at eye level and maintain natural head posture while using them. Sit up straight. The head should be balanced on the spine; at first, this might feel like your head is pushed back, but the feeling will decrease with time. Keep your laptop and computer monitors at eye level, as well.
If you suffer from text neck, your chiropractor can help. Regular adjustments help reduce the subluxations caused by text neck, allowing your spine and nervous system to work at optimum potential. Your chiropractor may recommend massage and some core exercises and neck stretches like the ones listed below:
- Front Walkout – Put your chest on an exercise ball and walk forward on your hands, rolling the ball from your chest to your feet. Back up, rolling the ball back up to your chest.
- Back Walkout – Sit on the exercise ball with your arms at your sides. Walk your feet forward as far as possible, moving the ball from your bottom to your neck and moving to a prone position (you may have to start with going to the upper back and work up to moving to the neck). Keep your core muscles tight. Don’t raise your head. Then walk back to a sitting position.
- Side Stretch – Place your right arm, bent at the elbow, behind your back. Using your left hand, grasp the right side of your head and pull your head down gently, so your ear rests as closely as you can on your left shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release. Switch arms and repeat for the other side.
- Scapula Stretch (works the scapula area of the back to prevent the dreaded “hump”) – Stand in a doorway. Place your hands at head level on both sides of the doorframe. Lean in slightly, keeping your head up and eyes looking forward. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release.