The “Text Neck” Epidemic
By Dr. Sonia Marques
We have all been guilty of looking down at our phones or tablets for long periods of time and feeling a stiffness and discomfort in our necks as a result of it. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of how much time is passing by, but our bodies are certainly feeling the impact of our actions. Our technology-driven society has led to a common and ubiquitous condition coined “text neck,” or chronic flexion malposition of the head and neck. For some, this means limited range of motion and stiffness, but for many others the restriction is painful. Patients may also present with symptoms in the upper back and shoulders, as well as reporting headaches, altered vision and fatigue.
Long term consequences of progressive text neck syndrome include rounding of the shoulders, a rounded hump-like upper and mid back and eventually reduced respiratory volume. These postural changes include anterior head carriage, which is when the chin juts forward. Anterior head carriage increases the weight and stress to our necks and upper backs. A normal neutral head posture of 0 degrees correlates to 10-12 lbs of weight on our necks, whereas 45 degrees of forward head posture correlates to 49 lbs of weight to our necks! Essentially, a forward head posture of 3-5 inches adds hundreds of pounds of stress to the neck throughout the day. Years of this added stress greatly increases the potential for cervical disc herniations, as well as degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease of the neck and upper spine. Of particular concern is the long-term effects of text neck on children and adolescents who have grown up with this technology since infancy and oftentimes exceed the recommended daily amounts of screen time.
A study published in the May 2017 issue of Surgical Neurology International Journal concluded that “Musculoskeletal neck pain is a common multifactorial disease in children and adolescents, implying that there are numerous risk factors contributing to its development. Bending the head, neck, and shoulders over cell phones and handheld devices, along with distorted neck positioning when sitting, studying, and watching television, can lead to incrementally increased stresses in the cervical spine area. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries. Other developmental, medical, psychological, and social complications are also of concern.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid the habits and technologies that cause these issues, young individuals should make an effort to perform activities with a neutral spine and to avoid neck flexion for hours each day. Most times, children and adolescents do not know they could be doing serious long-term damage to their bodies because the short-term effects are not as noticeable. It is only later in life that the effects can seriously affect the quality of life. This increases fears that younger people, who are society’s biggest users of smartphones and tablets, could be facing a future of pain and disability, or even taking years off of their life expectancy.
Assessment of postural anomalies and evaluation of spinal and muscle dysfunction allows the chiropractor to determine the best course for corrective action. Corrections may include active release therapy of dysfunctional muscles, soft tissue release, joint mobilizations, manual traction, as well as rehabilitative stretching and strengthening exercises and ergonomic and supportive care. Raising awareness on the consequences of musculoskeletal neck pain and providing methods of prevention of treatment is the key to managing “text neck” in both kids and adults. Although smart phones, tablets and laptops will always be necessary parts of our lives, we can certainly minimize their negative effects to ourselves and to our families.