Text Neck Leading to Chronic Pain
Tips For Avoiding Text Neck
- Seek advice from a Physical Therapist about proper posture.
- Avoid looking down at a mobile device or other objects for prolonged periods of time.
- Maintain proper posture during all aspects of life to avoid the onset of painful neck symptoms due to excessive stretching of the neck and upper back muscles.
- Avoid looking at a mobile device for over 2-3 minutes at a time.
- Hold the mobile device up at “eye” level. This helps to engage the core muscles and keeps the C-spine in proper postural position.
Steps to Avoid Text Neck
If you recently began experiencing neck pain, shoulder pain, and headaches, you could be suffering from “text neck.” Text Neck is basically a repetitive stress injury that results from bending the neck forward for extended periods and/or repeated periods throughout the day. This postural position strains the Cervical spine (C-spine) and over time can cause pain. As the worldwide sales of cell phones and tablets have surged, the painful problem of text neck has also surged.
Physical Therapists treat patients of all ages every day with neck pain that originates from poor posture related to the constant and excessive use of mobile devices. We help patients relieve painful symptom through exercises and education in proper body mechanics. Text Neck can be treated through exercise and changing habits. Placing the device at a different level (approximately eye level) would reduce the incidence of “text neck” significantly.
Maintaining Correct Posture
Since Text Neck is essentially a C-spine issue, a quick overview of the spine will help explain the problem. Proper posture keeps the different forces that help hold body parts together at optimal levels. It also has a positive effect on the musculature of the body, enabling muscles to produce their maximal contraction force and making movement easy. There are 3 curves of the spine that must be maintained at all times if someone is going to have correct posture, and it must occur while they are standing, sitting, or lying down.
If bad posture is assumed and maintained for a prolonged time, the stress and strain is excessive and can cause damage to the joints or the soft tissue surrounding the joints. It can also cause difficulty in movement since the muscles cannot generate adequate force due to improper length. Any muscle that is stretched for a prolonged time period will lose the capability to generate force.
Text Neck Posture
The normal pattern of use for mobile devices is rounded shoulder and forward head posture. This posture places a great deal of stress (in the form of a stretch) on the entire posterior aspect of the C-spine, including the muscles and the other soft tissues of the spine such as the “leather-like” ligaments and annulus of the intervertebral disc. Prolonged stretching of these non-elastic ligament fibers eventually causes pain (e.g. bend your finger backwards until it hurts and hold it in that position for 1 minute).
At the same time, the anterior aspect of the spine is compressed, adding pressure on the intervertebral disc. This increased pressure inside the disc can lead to pain and/or damage to the annular wall. The “hunched” posture puts the scapulae (shoulder blades) in a position that places the scapulae stabilizing muscles on a prolonged stretch and eventually weakens them.
Now think a moment about your head. The human head weighs approximately 10-15 pounds. When the C-spine is flexed forward, the stress on the spine is “doubled” for every inch forward. Therefore, when someone is looking down at his mobile device for a period of time, his muscles have to control a weight that can exceed 20 pounds.
To get a good understanding of what this weight is to the C-spine musculature, try to hold a 15-20 pound dumbbell out in front of your chest with an outstretched arm. You will quickly realize how hard it is to accomplish this task. This little exercise should help reveal why proper posture is so important for pain prevention.
Now hold your head in the proper posture, placing the ears in alignment with the shoulders and the chin parallel to the ground. In this position, the forces of gravity are easily dealt with by the muscle structure and other aspects of the C-spine
Treating Neck and Back Pain
Physical Therapists help relieve patient symptoms while also educating patients on ways to avoid future occurrences. First, the patient may be taught an exercise routine to help strengthen the neck and back muscles. Every rehabilitation program prescribed by Physical Therapists incorporates strengthening exercises of the core musculature. These muscles are the “foundation” of body, and their actions have an effect on all other muscles and motions of the body. After addressing the symptom, the Physical Therapists teach the patient proper body mechanics and posture that will keep them healthy in the future.
Text Neck can develop in anyone who uses a mobile device excessively. Most people who look at their devices place all of the supporting neck and upper back muscles and other supportive soft tissues on a stretch. This can cause weakness in these muscles and “over stretch” of the soft tissues which eventually leads to the development of pain. By positioning the mobile device in a more advantageous ergonomically correct position, the excess stress and strain on the C-spine can be eliminated and the symptoms of Text Neck can be avoided.