Text neck is running rampant amongst teenagers, commuters and anyone who spends too much time looking down at their cellphone. Dr. Steve yells at 10 people a day in our waiting room for their posture while staring down at their cell phone. Technology is great, but it’s created new kinds of problems. Screen time has significantly impacted the amount of physical activity kids get and changed the way kids communicate with one another. But looking down at a cell phone all day takes a big toll on the spine.
We see this condition most frequently in teenagers and young adults, but anyone who spends significant amounts of time staring down at their phone can develop neck pain from this very poor posture. Many people often associate neck pain with old age, but the truth is that most high school students experience neck pain or discomfort at some point. Students nowadays spend the majority of their time on their phones or other devices to complete their homework and use social media. This causes them to look down on their device for long periods of time, which leads to the development of Text Neck.
What Is Text Neck?
The neck is a complex, coordinated structure made up on bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, fascia and nerves. The neck is built for mobility. Our necks allow for more rotation than any other part of the spine, but with that increased freedom of movement comes an increased vulnerability. Additionally, our neck’s are supporting the bowling ball we call a ‘head’. All the muscles, bones and nerves work in harmony when the neck and head are held in a healthy, neutral posture. When the head and neck are moved from those ‘ideal’ postures, problems start to arise. The term ‘Text Neck’ was coined by an American chiropractor, and refers to the neck pain and damage caused by looking own at a cellphone (or other electronic device) too frequently and for too long.
This condition is a result of overstretching of the muscles behind the neck and shortening of the muscles in the front. It can also lead to extra wear and tear of the cervical spine. ‘Text neck’ is the close relative of ‘upper crossed syndrome’.
In a healthy, aligned posture, the average head only exerts about 10-12 lbs of force through the muscles of the neck. Moving the head forward by only 1 inch increases the forces exerted onto the spine by 6 times! In children, the size of their head is larger in relation to their body size than adults. This fact, combined with the fact that they have an increased propensity to spend their free time on an electronic device, makes them more susceptible to developing this condition.
Can Cell Phones Really Cause Neck Pain?
You might be reading this and think to yourself ‘I’m sure this is an exaggeration’ or ‘I don’t use my phone often enough to cause this pain’. We bet you’d be shocked to learn how many hours a day you really spend on your devices. Iphone users have the unpleasant option of tracking their screentime, right down to how many times a day you pick up your phone, to what applications you open first after picking it up. Looking at your screen time tracker can be depressing, and we bet you’d be shocked with how much time you’re really spending looking down.
Studies have shown that close to 80% of the population between the ages of 18 and 44 have their cell phones with them all the time. They have it accessible to them all day and they sleep (ringer on) with the phone on their nightstand or in their bed with them. We are so dependent on our electronics these days, that 23 billion texts are sent worldwide everyday. The average American spend 5.5 hours a day on their phone, with millenials spending closer to 5.7 hours a day on their phones. This statistics are crazy. If you spent 5 hours a day exercising you’d be sore the next day. So making your neck work too hard for 5.5 hours a day, and repeating that bad posture everyday, is asking for trouble.
It’s no wonder our chiropractors are seeing more and more neck pain of ‘insidious onset’. Patients will come in and be unsure of why they are experiencing tension, pain and headaches. A few quick questions about screen time and work habits can quickly identify the true cause of the discomfort. It comes as a shock to a lot of people!
Symptoms of Text Neck
- Stiff, uncomfortable neck
- Upper back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Weakness in the neck, arms and back
- Radiating Pain (pain travelling from neck into shoulder and arm)
How To Treat Text Neck
Don’t stress! There are a few ways to help prevent and alleviate text neck.
Preventing Text Neck
Prevention is always the best option. The difficult thing about prevention of this condition are (a) some people don’t even realize how often they’re looking down at their phone and (b) sometimes its unavoidable. There are some simple tips to try and monitor electronics usage.
- Monitor your usage through an app. IPhones now have this feature built in.
- If you are working on a project, or are busy at work, set an alarm on your phone for every 1 hour. Get up from the desk or spend some time stretching. Don’t spend longer than 1 hour looking down (ideally work intervals shouldn’t be longer than 20-30 minutes, but we know taking micro-breaks at work can be hard).
- Raise the phone. It might look uncool to hold your phone up at eye-level, but your neck will be happier.
- Mix some stretching into your day. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, look upwards, extend the arms behind you slightly. Try to undo all the hours spent hunched forward looking down at your phone.
- Control your kids’ screen time. We apologize in advance for the whining that may occur when you take their iPad away, but their developing spines need a break from looking down all the time. We can’t emphasize enough how important this is!
Text Neck Treatment
If you have spent a few late nights at the office, or you’re studying hard at school, you’ll be at risk of developing text neck. Even without work demands, most of us spend a lot of our free time on our phones. All you have to do is take one quick look around our waiting room to see how dependent we are on our phones. Dr. Steve yells at at least 5 people a day for their poor texting posture.
When the muscles are dysfunctional, like they are with text neck, the joints can also become stiff. An adjustment from our Oakville chiropractor will allow all the joints to work at their full potential. Having the neck adjusted will help the joints move to their full range of motion without any restrictions. Healthy joints are designed to move, and a quick adjustment will ensure the joints move as freely as possible. Another great target area is the mid and upper back. Looking down at a cell phone for multiple hours a day created and increased kyphosis. In other words, it rounds out the middle of the back to created a hunched forward appearance. Chiropractic adjustments to the middle back help alleviate stiffness and make you feel like you can sit up straight again. If you’ve ever felt like your back is so rounded that you can’t sit up straight even if you tried, get an adjustment! Your back will feel amazing!
Chiropractors are also extensively trained to treat the soft tissues. Muscles contribute significantly to the discomfort associated with text neck. Our chiropractors will use techniques to stretch and release tight muscles. Muscle release techniques are like targeted massages to the problematic muscles. These techniques involve applying pressure to tight muscles while stretching. Grafton is another technique used to treat the soft tissue. This involves using a tool to break up tight muscles and fascia. Both techniques are effective at relieving pain and improving range of motion.
Sustained poor postures results in some muscles having to work overtime. With the head hanging forward, looking down at a phone, the muscles in the back of the head and neck have to constantly be active in order to support the weight of the head. When the head it upright, all the muscles contribute to maintain a neutral posture. When the head hangs down, the muscles have to work overtime to provide the necessary support. Similar to the way your quads can feel sore after a tough workout at the gym, the neck can feel sore after prolonged poor posture.
Acupuncture can help stimulate the nerves and ‘wake up’inactive muscles. Acupuncture can also alleviate tight muscles and get rid of trigger points that form in affected muscles. For these reasons acupuncture is the perfect treatment option! It addresses both problems, and can effectively resolve both issues! If you’re unsure about whether it is the right choice for you, come in and talk to Dr. Jenn about it!
Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles through the skin at specific points along neural pathways. This stimulation will affect the muscles those nerves innervate, and can help decrease muscle tone and decrease pain. There are also certain points in the body where it is safe to stimulate the muscles directly, and inserting a needle into a tight muscle can help it release. Acupuncture will also promote blood flow to the area which helps speed up the rate of healing.
Stretching is a simple way to relax the neck and shoulder muscles. In fact, our chiropractors at Nottinghill Family Wellness Centre recommend incorporating a few easy stretches into your daily routines to prevent/get rid of neck pain. Stretching the neck helps to improve posture, increase blood flow, and increase flexibility. The following stretches are chiropractor-approved and are very effective, if followed correctly. For a complete list of stretches, click here!
When taking a break from your desk or your phone, Brugger position will help stretch tight muscles and activate other muscles that become inactive after prolonged poor posture. Sitting in a hunched position also compresses the diaphragm, and Brugger’s position will help encourage the diaphragm to expand as much as possible. To try this position, pull the shoulder blades back, look straight ahead, hang your arms by your side and turn your palms to face forward. Hold this position for a minute or two.
Strengthening the deep muscles in the neck is an important part in fixing text neck. When all the muscles are strong, and activate at the right time, the neck functions optimally and is less likely to cause pain. A strong neck helps maintain good posture, helps move the neck efficiently, and helps keep the joints and muscles pain-free!
Not all neck exercises are created equally. The exercises that help strengthen the deep muscles of the neck are often the most effective at helping improve poor posture and neck pain. When the outer muscles are tight and overactive, the deep muscles in the neck can shut off. When these muscles shut down, it creates a vicious cycle that makes the outer muscles work even harder! The bottom line is that strengthening those deeper muscles can be the trick to making sure all the neck muscles are balanced and pulling their own weight. Chin tuck exercises are a great starting point. These exercises have many modifications, variations and progressions to help increase the strength of the deep neck flexors while keeping it pain-free.