Modern technology has made everyday life much more convenient, but there’s a very “inconvenient truth” about the health risks posed by the constant typing and clicking on computers and other digital devices. One newly coined medical condition in particular has spread rapidly over the past couple of years and has come to epitomize our dependence on tech gadgets: “text neck.”
This condition is a literal pain in the neck, a form of repetitive stress injury (RSI) caused by frequently bending the neck forward and hunching the shoulders while looking downward at digital devices — particularly portable ones like smart phones and tablet computers. And with text messaging experiencing a boom in popularity — increasing from 12.5 billion texts per month in 2006 to a whopping 196.9 billion texts per month in 2011 — text neck is only going to get worse. In fact, a 2009 study found that 83% of participants felt pain in their necks or hands during texting.
With its cutesy name, text neck sounds like just minor aches and pains, but it can actually develop into something quite serious. If not treated, it can cause permanent damage to the body, such as arthritis and deterioration of the discs in the spinal column. It can even lead to decreased lung capacity and gastrointestinal problems due to poor posture. In extreme cases, the muscles in the neck can actually get so used to the forward-leaning position that they adjust, causing the neck to reverse its natural backward curvature, leading to further medical complications.
Fort Lauderdale chiropractor Dr. Dean Fishman, who runs a website called Text-neck.com, came up with the term in 2008 after treating patients as young as 3 years old for neck pain due to overuse of electronic device. Fishman explains that the neutral position for the neck is when the ears are directly above the shoulders and that for every inch forward you lean your head, the amount of pressure it puts on your neck increases by 100%. So, if your head weighs 10 pounds (at least, according to Jerry Maguire), when you lean forward just an inch, it will feel to your neck like it weighs 20 pounds. The impact on children is even greater than it is on adults, because their heads are larger in proportion to their necks.
If you’re one of the millions in danger of developing text neck, there are several steps you can take toward alleviating it before it requires medical intervention:
- Hold your device higher. Instead of texting with your phone in your lap or at chest height, raise it as close to chin-level as possible to prevent bending your neck downard.
- Take breaks. If you find yourself in front of a screen for long stretches, take a break by looking away from the device at least once every 15 minutes. Try looking straight ahead with your head tucked in towards the neck. Download a timer app to help remind you.
- Exercise. Perform exercises to stretch out your neck, shoulders and back and to support your range of motion. Examples include: rotating the shoulders with your arms by your sides, bending your ear towards your shoulder and raising your head, shoulders and chest off the ground while lying flat on your stomach with your arms by your side. Also consider taking yoga or pilates classes.
- Use an app. Dr. Fishman has created a mobile app called Text Neck Indicator that tells the user if the phone is being used at an appropriate angle as a reminder to hold it more upright.
(Sources: The Telegraph, Self.com, Forbes.com, CNN, Text-neck.com, The Peper Perspective)