If you are reading this article right now, think about the position that your body is in. Is your head forward, shoulders rounded, and your back hunched over? If the answer is yes, then you are in the posture that leads to what is known as text neck. Text neck, (also known as iHunch, iPosture, and anterior head syndrome), is a repetitive stress injury that causes pain and dysfunction in the neck from staring at a cell phone or a handheld electronic device for hours a day in a prolonged slumped posture. The average head weighs 10-12lbs, however, for every inch forward the head moves from the midline, the weight your neck has to carry increases. If we bend our necks forward to 60 degrees, as we do to look at our phones and handheld devices, the stress on our neck increases to 60 pounds of pressure. Over prolonged periods of time, this compresses and tightens the muscle, tendons, and ligaments structures in the front of the neck, while lengthening the muscles tendon, and ligament structures in the back of the neck. As the tissue is out of a neutral position and stressed for a long period of time it is going to get fatigued, sore, and inflammation will set in. This can lead to upper back and neck pain along with tension-type headaches. Over time it can start to reverse the natural cervical curve in your neck. It can also cause alignment problems, early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration, numbness, tingling in the arms, and eventually irreversible damage.
As more and more people are using technology, this is becoming a common problem in the US. Even among the nation’s youth. The majority of Americans now own a cell phone or some sort of handheld device. A report by Yoram Wurmser, called The US, Time Spent with Mobile 2019, shows that the average US adult spends 3 hours, and 43 minutes on mobile devices in 2019, per day. It is even higher for youth. A Washington Post article reports that according to Common Sense Media’s study, teens spend an average of 9 hours a day online and kids ages 8-12 an average of 6 hours a day. Since smartphones haven’t been around long enough to have too much long-term research to go with them there is a general low level of awareness about how being in a slumped posture staring at a phone or tablet affects you over time, especially in the young adult population.
Does the thought of getting rid of your devices seem like an unrealistic option? Good news, you don’t have to say goodbye to technology but there are healthy habits you can practice to avoid prolonged text neck posture and the discomfort and damage that comes with it. First of all work on changing how you hold your phone. Hold it as close to eye level as possible to avoid sitting in a hunched-over position for hours a day. If you find that you are bending your neck down to look at your phone, try to take frequent breaks to lift your head up and pull your shoulders back into a neutral position. Even short breaks that consist of a few seconds can help our tissues recover if you do them frequently. Exercises such as the “chin tuck” are beneficial and can be done anywhere to help increase postural awareness as well as neck muscle strength. To do the chin tuck start by sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your chin parallel to the floor. Slowly bring your head back as if you were making a “double chin”. Push your shoulders down and elongate your neck. Hold this position while you take 3 deep breaths, then release. Repeat 3 more sets. If you are still experiencing discomfort in the upper back and neck or numbness and tingling in the arms, chiropractic can help. A chiropractic adjustment can help address structural and alignment issues that text neck may have created over time to decrease pain and discomfort. A 2007 review showed chiropractic care as one of the non-pharmacological therapies effective for acute and chronic neck and back pain. A chiropractor can help you with exercises and daily living modifications to incorporate so you can continue to enjoy your smartphone in a way that doesn’t give you pain for doing so.
Nair S. et al. Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychol. 2015