Text Neck: Extreme Cell Phone Usage is a Huge Pain in the Neck!

Take a trip to the mall and look around; start counting how many people you see with their heads down looking at their phones. Some will be on the phone for a few seconds at a time; others will be on it for a few minutes at a time. Now take note of their posture. Their heads are most likely pointed downwards; ears are protruding forward past the shoulders; back is slumped forward; and shoulders are rounded in so the chest is caved in. How harmful could that be? Well some people may not be aware that this forward head posture, more popularly known as “text neck”, can be very detrimental to one’s health and cause herniated discs, muscular pain, nerve damage, or even metabolic problems!

So, what is “Text Neck”? Why the fuss?

Text next refers to the forward head posture that your body develops as you use this posture over an extended period of time. Naturally, our heads are supposed to sit in line with our torso; so if someone were to look at you from a side view, they would see that your ears line up with your shoulders. There are many muscles in the neck/back that contribute to this “balance” that keeps your ears in line with your shoulders – muscles towards the front of the neck make sure that the head to doesn’t go too far back, and muscles towards the back make sure that the head doesn’t go too far forward. Consistently holding your head forward for an extended period of time will isometrically contract muscles of the front of your neck, which are responsible for protruding it forward, and statically stretch the muscles on the back. Keeping the muscles contracted, or even stretched, for an extended period of time may develop into a strain because the muscles are being overstressed from keeping your head in place and preventing gravity from dropping your chin to your chest.1 To show that forward head postures correlate with neck pain, a study was performed that compared the measurements of head posture between patients with neck pain and patients without neck pain. What it had found was that patients with neck pain generally had a smaller angle between their seventh vertebra in their cervical spine and the tragus of their ear than their pain-free counterparts.2 In other words, patients with neck pain displayed a lateral posture that brought their heads more forward and farther away from their shoulders than patients without neck pain.

To illustrate the severity of what a forward head posture can do, Dr. Adalbert I. Kapandji, an orthopedic surgeon, used the analogy of your head sitting on your neck like a golf ball on a tee. Except your head is more like a bowling ball that weighs about ten to twelve pounds, and for every inch that your head protrudes forward, ten more pounds of pressure is added to your spine.This is further illustrated with the image below, and as you can see you can upwards to an extra sixty pounds of pressure to your neck! More pressure on the spine could lead to possible herniated discs and spinal nerve damage that affects peripheral body functions. Injuring the nerves in your cervical spine cause: paralysis in both arms and legs; not being able to breathe or your own, cough, or control your bladder; or could lead to impaired control of your arms and/or hands.4

Developing a forward head posture should be on the back of everyone’s minds because the body isn’t built to efficiently operate with such a posture. If left untreated, the pressure of your head on your cervical spine will eventually travel down and throw off the alignment of your thoracic and lumbar spine – which will then further impair your body’s daily functions.

What you can do to fix the problem, or even prevent it!

So you realize that you’re on your phone religiously and you’re starting to notice that your ears are going past your shoulders, what can you do? Aside from seeing a physician or physical therapist, one thing you can do is make a habit of performing “chin tucks”. This when you keep your head level and retract your head backwards, as if a bee were to land on your nose and you avoid the sting of death by pulling your head back (keep in mind that your not tilting your chin upwards or downwards). Hold for a few seconds, and that’s one rep; perform about 3 sets of 10 reps periodically throughout the day. The purpose of this is to strengthen your over-stretched muscles on the backside of your neck and stretch the muscles towards the front of the neck.

You can also download the “Text Neck Indicator” app onto your phone. What this does is that when your phone is being held at an acceptable position for viewing (upright), a green indicator light is displayed at the top of the phone. But when the phone is held at an unacceptable viewing angle (angled so you’ll have to look down at it) a red indicator light is displayed at the top and a notification goes off letting you know that your phone needs to be upright – or you just need to get off the phone!5

References

1 What are sprains and strains?. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases National Institutes of Health. n.d. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sprains_Strains/sprains_and_strains_ff.pdf.

2 Silva, A., Punt, T., Sharples, P., Johnson, M., & Vilas-Boas, J. Head posture and neck pain of chronic nontraumatic origin: a comparison between patients and pain-free persons. Archives Of Physical Medicine And Rehabilitation, 2009; 90(4), 669-674.

3 Painter, F. n.d. Forward head posturehttp://www.chiro.org/LINKS/Forward_Head_Posture.shtml.

4 Levels of injury. Shepherd Center. n.d. Retrieved from http://www.spinalinjury101.org/details/levels-of-injury.

5 Text Next Indicator: A Mobile App. The Text Neck Institute. http://text-neck.com/text-neck-indicator–a-mobile-app.html.

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