What is the one activity that you do with your eyes and hands that can absolutely wreck your neck if you’re not careful? The answer is texting. Yes, that thing that most of us do multiple times per day could be setting us up for some very serious neck pain. Of course, we don’t only hurt our necks when we use our phones to text. We are potentially creating strain every time we glance down at our phones for any reason. This problem is becoming so widespread that the medical world has actually coined the phrase “text neck” to describe the impact of glancing down at our screens. While “text neck” may sound like a cute phrase, this is actually a repetitive stress injury that can negatively impact your entire body. Are you at risk? Take a look at the basics of text neck.
How Does Text Neck Happen?
It’s important to understand a little bit about the relationship between the weight we place on our necks and our posture. With a neutral head posture, our ears are perfectly lined up with our neck and shoulders as we look forward. This is the posture you might naturally fall into if you’re standing to face someone in a conversation. However, we actually increase the weight we place on the cervical spine with each inch that we deviate from the neutral posture. The cervical spine is the portion of the spine that gives the neck structure, supports the skull and provides protection to the spinal cord. The bones that make up our cervical spine are actually the smallest bones located within the spinal column.
The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. While that’s pretty heavy as it is, our head can actually sit heavier on our bodies depending on what we’re doing. When we lean forward by 15 degrees, the head’s “real weight” is closer to 27 pounds. When we make a 30-degree tilt, that jumps up to 40 pounds. When positioned at a 45-degree angle, the head can feel like it weighs close to 50 pounds. Finally, a 60-degree tilt has the impact on your body of a head that weighs 60 pounds! For humans, the only thing truly supporting all that weight is the neck.
When we’re constantly looking down at our phones, our heads are applying all of that extra pressure to our necks. Many people spend hours and hours each day with their necks hunched downward while they look at electronic devices. This includes reading messages, watching videos, reading the news and scrolling through social media. It’s not uncommon for some people to watch entire movies on their phone screens with their necks tilted.
What Are the Signs of Text Neck?
It’s possible that you’re already living with text neck without realizing that this condition is the cause of your pain and discomfort. Identifying text neck can be difficult due to the fact that the symptoms often radiate beyond the neck. Here’s a look at the telltale signs of text neck:
- Tension headaches.
- Tension headaches that radiate from the base of the skull.
- A stiff neck.
- A sore neck.
- Difficulty turning your head without pain.
- Dull pain throughout the neck.
- Acute pain throughout the neck.
- Pain that radiates from the neck into the shoulder blades and shoulders.
- Pain that radiates from the neck to the arms.
It’s possible to have multiple symptoms at the same time when your neck has been impacted from the repetitive stress of glancing down at your phone. In some cases, people who spend excessive amounts of time on their devices can also experience accompanying hand and wrist pain. However, “excessive” is a subjective term when you consider that researchers have found that the average American spends 5.4 hours using devices daily. In children, “text neck” symptoms stemming from excessive use of screens sometimes results in curvature of the spine. This is becoming a much bigger problem as remote learning continues for many children around the country.
How Do You Fix Text Neck?
Correcting text neck can require a combination of behavioral changes and physical adjustments. First, it’s important to determine that the symptoms you are having are actually connected to your screen habits. If you spend any amount of time each day looking down at your phone, there is a good chance that any neck pain and discomfort you’re experiencing could be due to your screen habits.
Neck pain stemming from screen use can often be corrected by addressing any subluxations within the cervical spine. A subluxation is a blockage among the vertebra in the spine. Manual chiropractic adjustments can often realign the spine to stop pain and inflammation. Additionally, massage and strength treatments can help to relieve some of the tension and pain that have built up in the neck. While many patients see significant improvements after just one adjustment, it may take several sessions to fully realign a spine that has been under prolonged distress.
Lifestyle changes are also extremely important for treating text neck. Keep in mind that your device isn’t the cause of neck pain. What’s more, the amount of time you spend on a device isn’t technically the problem. That means that people who need to look at screens for work or school should not assume that the only option for relief is to walk away from their responsibilities. The real underlying cause of your injury is the way you’re interacting with your screen. The good news is that some minor changes can greatly improve your outlook. Here’s a rundown of the best ways to prevent text neck:
- Try to limit overall time spent on handheld devices. While avoiding screen time is nearly impossible for most of us, we can give our necks some rest by refraining from unnecessary screen time. If you find yourself scrolling for the sake of scrolling, it might be time to engage in another activity.
- When looking at your screen, be aware of your posture. Do your best to maintain a neutral head position with your eyes, ears and shoulders in alignment.
- Try to keep your device at eye level. Consider a stand for your device that allows you to view your screen at eye level when you’re seated at a desk or table.
- When you’re not on your screen, fit in regular exercise. You may be able to fortify your neck against injury if you can build up strength and flexibility.
- Stretch regularly. Stretching can help you to avoid injury by relieving stiffness in your neck area.
- Participate in routine chiropractic care. In addition to relieving pain and tension caused by text neck, a chiropractor can also help you with posture techniques and exercises to avoid harming your neck without giving up your phone!
Simply being aware of the connection between screen time and neck pain can often be enough to help you protect yourself from text neck. Many people find that they are able to correct poor screen practices once they know to “catch themselves” tilting their necks when viewing their screens. Neck strain and screen time don’t have to go together! If you’re concerned about text neck, it’s time to see a chiropractor to get your neck back in alignment for screen time without strain or pain!