Texting: You do it every day, without batting an eye or thinking about it. It’s an instant way of staying in touch with family and friends. And it’s harmless, right? Not so fast!
Like many people, you most likely hold your tablet or smartphone in your hand and glance down at it to read and send text messages. You probably do this many times a day. If so, these repeated downward head motions could be putting you at an increased risk of experiencing:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
- Text neck
- Pinched nerves
- Wear and tear of the spine
- Spinal degeneration
- Spinal misalignment
How Texting Has Infiltrated Our Everyday Life
Pew Research tells us that about 83 percent of adults in the United States own cell phones, and over 70 percent of them receive and send text messages. Frequent text users most likely prefer to text over talk, since over 50 percent of those people who exchange over 50 texts daily say they prefer receiving a text over a phone call.
On a typical day, more than 40 messages are sent or received by text users, with the average user receiving or sending around 10 texts each day. These figures haven’t changed much since what was reported back in 2010.
Every day Americans spend around 90 minutes each day using their cell phones. They check their social media accounts at least once each hour they’re awake, or 17 times a day.
Younger adults tend to be more enthusiastic to texting. Young-adult cell-phone owners between 18 and 24 years old exchange around 109 text messages on average each day. Doing the math, this comes out to be over 3,000 texts monthly for the average cell-phone user inside this age range.
Your Head Weighs More Than You Think
This texting problem is all in your head — well, sort of. The human head on average weighs around 10 to 12 pounds — when it’s in its neutral position, that is. When you look down to search on Google, check your social media account on your phone or text a friend, you’re increasing the weight of your head and, therefore, the gravitational pull on your neck.
One study by Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, revealed that when you look down at your smartphone, it is as if you are adding as much as 60 pounds of weight on your neck. This approximates the same weight as six grocery bags filled with food or four adult-sized bowling balls. It’s also equivalent to an 8-year-old child.
Using a computer model of the spine of a human, Dr. Hansraj notes the added weight applied to your spine at various positions:
- At a 15-degree tilt of your head, you increase the weight of your head to 27 pounds.
- At a 30-degree tilt of your head, you increase the weight of your head to 40 pounds.
- At a 45-degree tilt of your head, you increase the weight of your head to 49 pounds.
- At a 60-degree tilt of your head, you increase the weight of your head to 60 pounds.
Bad posture while texting can lead to spine problems, resulting in chronic neck pain, persistent shoulder pain, chronic back pain and the development of text neck. Over time, this slouching forward increases the wear and tear on your spine, and it can lead to spinal degeneration and spinal misalignment.
The emergence of smartphones and the proliferation of texting has created a whole new medical phenomenon known as “text neck.” And the Washington Post says that text neck is becoming an epidemic.
Coined by Dean L. Fishman, a Florida chiropractor, text neck is a syndrome that manifests as a group of symptoms. It’s defined as a repetitive stress injury caused by spending too many hours looking down on electronic devices.
When you position your head forward continuously, it can tighten the muscles in your upper back and the back of your neck. Leaning forward while you are sitting can also lead you to tighten your facial muscles and clench your jaw. This can cause TMJ and headaches. According to Fishman, text neck is not only considered a texting problem, but also an emailing and gaming problem as well.
In today’s times, people perform up to 75 percent of their work while sitting down. In the past, people would spend a lot of their time standing, walking or running. Today, on the other hand, people often go from sitting down at work to going home and sitting down again to relax. Based off of The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics report, this constant position with no fluctuation or movement can lead to postural backache.
Do I Have Text Neck?
As Dr. Fishman mentions, text neck doesn’t come from just texting. Text neck symptoms can happen when you overuse your mobile phone, computer, video game unit, e-reader, tablet or MP3 player. Some text neck symptoms include:
- Chronic headaches
- Spine curvature
- Pain in upper back, neck and shoulders
- Difficulty in turning your head
- Early arthritis onset
The more you lean your head forward, the more weight you are placing on your upper back and neck, and the more problematic your spinal issues can become. If you spend long periods using hand-held electronic devices, you are putting yourself at risk.
The risk increases in growing children who start using electronic devices early in life. Adding additional weight on a growing cervical spine can lead to pain and damage at an early age.
Long-Term Impact of Text Neck
When using your smartphone with bad posture, you are adding stress to your spine. Over the years, this can lead to your neck and back muscles deteriorating to the point you need surgery.
In one particular case, Rebecca Bauer, who ironically is a chiropractic student, is now suffering from text neck. She says the biggest reason why she has the condition is because she is doing exactly what about 75 percent of other U.S. citizens are doing: texting excessively.
Her excessive texting led to her developing text neck, but she also feels her rigorous studying schedule is contributing to her body pain as well. That said, she feels her texting is what plays a significant role in the problem she now faces. She sits in class from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day and texts around 10 hours as well.
You have a natural curve to your backbone, which is designed to handle the stress put on it from your everyday movements. However, when you lose a part of your spine’s natural curvature repeatedly, it can increase your disc’s wear and tear. These discs help cushion the bones in your back and neck, and the wear and tear can likely lead to needing corrective surgery to relieve nerve pressure that resulted from this degeneration.
Long-term forward and downward angled neck posture can lead to disc herniation, long-term muscle strain and pinched nerves. It can also lead to decreased respiratory muscle strength.
Tips to Minimize Text Neck
The first step you should take is limit how much time you are spending on your cell phone. Give yourself some restrictions when it comes to answering your texts or designate specific times each day. Keep these times to a minimum, which can help reduce how much pressure you are placing on your neck and spine.
The second way to prevent text neck is focusing on strengthening your core. Strong core muscles, which consist of your lower back and abdominal muscles, help support your upper body and neck. Because your core muscles don’t typically get enough of a workout with normal daily activities, specific exercises that target these mid-section muscles, such as knee tucks and side balance crunches, are needed to strengthen them.
Other steps you can take to prevent text neck include:
- Keeping your cell phone at eye level
- Moving your eyes downward to read your screen
- While sitting, keeping your feet flat on the floor
- While using your phone, being sure you are sitting
- Keeping your shoulders pulled back away from your ears
- Taking frequent walks
- When possible, engaging your core
Be sure your laptop is placed on an appropriate surface. Placing it in your lap encourages hunching over and slouching. Make sure you have a supportive chair that will require you to sit up straight and will help you align your head over your hips and shoulders when you are looking at the screen.
You can also use devices to prevent the painful symptoms long-term bad posture can cause. These include wrist guards and a docking station to support the weight of your electronic device. You should also consider using a headset.
While technology has led to posture issues, it has also led to new ways to address them. There are mobile apps help you stay aware of your posture and avoid forward head posture. One mobile app, available for the Android phone, works by showing a green light at the top left corner of your phone when you are viewing at a safe angle, and then turns red when you are increasing your risk for text neck. You can also add optional beeps or vibrations to warn you as well.
Chiropractors all agree that the most important thing you can do while you are using a desktop computer or a mobile device is take breaks frequently. Every half-hour or so, stand up and roll your neck and shoulders. You can also take a short walk, which will help improve your blood flow.
To help improve your posture and avoid text neck, you should also:
- Align your body properly. Your head should stay over your shoulders, your shoulders should stay over hips, and your hips should stay over ankles.
- Stand up against a wall to practice proper posture. Putting the base of your head against the wall, reach up over your head to the ceiling.
- Perform “chin tuck” exercises. In the appropriate posture, bring your shoulder blades together while you hold a chin tuck position — known as the shoulder blade squeeze. Hold this position for around 10 seconds. After you use your cell phone for over 10 minutes, repeat this exercise.
- Perform doorway stretches. Put your arms in a doorway and stretch your chest and shoulders by pushing your chest forward. Smartphone use can shorten your muscles, and his exercise helps lengthen them.
- Engage in regular exercise. Add in some weight training and focus on maintaining good posture.
- Check your posture frequently. Check your posture by setting up reminders for yourself such as when you read an email or take a call.
- Get your spine checked regularly by a chiropractor. Getting chiropractic adjustments to ensure your neck is working in its best biomechanics is essential to minimizing stress on your spinal cord and enhancing proper nerve flow from your cervical spine.
You can also perform wall angels several times a week. These are similar to snow angels, but you do them on a wall. Wall angels help you to strengthen your shoulder muscles.
Some people with text neck, though, will need a more comprehensive treatment. That may include a combination of approaches, such as manual chiropractic adjustments, cold laser therapy and massage therapy.
Although in today’s digital age, it’s almost impossible to avoid electronic devices and other technologies that can lead to text neck and other health problems. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make an effort to focus on your posture and look at your smartphone with a neutral spine. Lift your eyes up, pull your shoulders back, breathe deeply and listen to your body. These steps, combined with the tips above, can help you stay aware of your posture.
If you find you are experiencing persistent back or neck pain, and you suspect text neck, seek professional help to prevent long-term issues. At Crist Chiropractic & Wellness, our chiropractor in Cool Springs will evaluate your situation and determine if you need any chiropractic spinal adjustments or other treatments. Contact Crist Chiropractic & Wellness to schedule a consultation.