Text Neck: The Future of Neck Pain

Technology is a wonderful thing. Never before have we had the ability to connect to a world of knowledge on a device we can hold in our hand. For others, that simple device is great for connecting with friends and family may be thousands of miles away. As great as technology can be, there’s a lurking danger and we may be on the verge of an epidemic. The obvious answer here is the self-treatment model through Dr. Google; however, it’s time to talk about posture. A new term you may not be familiar with labeled “text neck” is making rounds.

Don’t move a muscle. Freeze in your current posture. Chances are your posture is anything but perfect. If you’re on reading this via your phone the likelihood that your posture is poor is even greater. Often posture flies incognito. It’s not a big deal, right? While posturing may seem harmless at first, prolonged poor posturing can cause both short and long-term complications. Insidious injuries can start develop at the neck, shoulder, and low back for “no apparent reason”.

Text neck is starting to become known amongst clinicians. Text neck is, at its roots, a postural condition. Through poor posturing while using cell phone symptoms can begin to develop. Symptoms can range from mild stiffness to headaches to radiating, debilitating neck pain.

“Text neck” itself is defined as postural overuse involving the head, neck, and shoulders.(1) The position of looking down applies a tensile (stretching) stress to the muscles along our head and neck. The shift in position forces your otherwise dormant neck muscles to fire, fighting the pull of gravity. Maintaining this posture for as little as three minutes can lead to muscle strains and headaches.1 An even worse scenario is that it may be damaging the discs in our spine if continued long term.

The average head weighs between 8-12 pounds. A simple head tilt of 15 degrees changes the moment arm of gravity, increasing the torque on the neck to 27 pounds. Shockingly, a head tilt 60 degrees increases the mechanical advantage of gravity, which leverages your head to upwards of 60 pounds of torque.(2) Imagine walking around with an 8-year-old on your shoulders. It’s no wonder why tension-type headaches and neck pain are seeing spikes in incidence. One study by Bonney and Corlett determined that 20 degrees of cervical flexion (looking down) over a one hour period leads to shrinkage of the cervical spine.(3) In other terms, the height of our cervical discs starts to collapse after one hour of looking down. Maintaining this posture for prolonged periods of time can lead to disc compression or possibly herniation.

text, neck, physical, therapy

What can we do to save our neck?

1. Modify your posture: Hold or place these electronic devices at eye level, allowing you to maintain a neutral head position.

2. Limit time: Set timers or reminders for 30 minute intervals when using these devices. If you are at working take rest breaks as often as possible.

3. Exercise: Use selective stretching and strengthening exercises to minimize the effects of poor posture, while making it easier to maintain proper posture. Seek a physical therapist for help in this arena.

The detrimental effects of sitting are well documented. As personal devices continue to be the norm, text neck seems to show unfavorable trend. As uncomfortable as it may seem to make postural changes in the short-term, the effects of poor posture will eventually come full circle and cause injury. Start making the changes today to prevent tomorrow’s pain.

If you are dealing with neck pain and would like to consult a physical therapist, click the link below to schedule your free discovery visit at Buffalo Rehab Group.

1. Walter, Laura. “Text Neck: The Link Between Texting and Musculoskeletal Injuries.” EHS Today 27 Feb. 2013: Print
2. Bever, Lindsey. “Text neck is becoming an ‘epidemic’ and could wreck your spine.”Washington Post 20 Nov. 2014: Print
3. Bonney, R. A., and E. N. Corlett. “Head posture and loading of the cervical spine.” Applied Ergonomics 33.5 (2002): 415-417.