Text Neck – 21st Century Syndrome

Originally Posted on March 2, 2018

Look around. It’s likely you will see at least one individual staring down at their phone. You know the position: slumped shoulder, head flexed, phone low in hands. In fact, it may even be you! Chances are you are reading this from some type of mobile device. According to Pew Research Center, 95% of adults in America own a cell phone of which at least 77% of those are smartphones. This makes it increasingly common to see individuals assuming “iPosture” or “text neck.”

“Text neck” is a newly developed medical term used to diagnose a condition associated with the overuse of electronic devices. Text neck syndrome is due to repetitive strain from assuming a frequent forward head or flexed neck posture resulting in exponential forces being placed on the spine. “For every inch of FHP (forward head posture), it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10-15 lbs.” (Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3)

What are the signs of text neck?

  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Chronic headache
  • Shortness of breath. Forward head posture, that associated with the use of mobile devices, can result in 30% decrease in lung function. (Rene Cailliet,D., director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California, wrote about the effects of forward head syndrome in his book “Rejuvenation Strategy”)
  • Numbness in the arms
  • Neurological losses

Text neck does not discriminate by age.  Neck pain has been a common ailment in adults, but we are also seeing a rise in children and adolescents.  Today’s research reveals a correlation between mobile device use and children with neck pain.  One study found that children and adolescents spent on average 5-7 hours a day with their heads flexed over reading and texting on their smartphones and handheld devices. Over a year this equates to between 1825 and 2555 hours.  It is estimated that high school students spend an additional 5000 hours per year in poor posture in addition to the number reported above  (Fares, et al Musculoskeletal neck pin in children and adolescents: Risk Factors and Complication,  Surg Neurol Int. 2017).

Not only are we seeing the effects of repetitive overuse of mobile devices on the musculoskeletal system, but we are seeing developmental effects on children.  Studies have correlated behaviors such as alienating from others and poor performance in school with adolescents who spend multiple hours on their smartphones.  (Fares, et al Musculoskeletal neck pin in children and adolescents: Risk Factors and Complication.  Surg Neurol Int. 2017). A new study released in April 2016 revealed findings that could link the use of technological devices to speech delays.  Researchers found that in children between 6 months and two years old, the more time spent using smartphones and tablets, the more likely they were to experience speech delays. (Ma, J., van den Heuvel, M., Maguire, J., Parkin, P., Birken, C. (2017). Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants? Presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, San Francisco, CA)

As these children age into their 20’s and 30’s, degenerative changes will have already set in as a result of poor posture and alignment.  This could potentially lead to the use of medications and surgical interventions earlier in life.

Risks of text neck include:

  • Early degeneration of the spine
  • Straightening of the curves in the spine
  • Chronic neck and back pain
  • Disc related injuries
  • Eventually surgery

How can you correct, avoid, and reduce the risks associated with the use of mobile technology?

  • Limit your usage of handheld devices
  • Maintain a neutral position of the head (ears aligned with shoulders)
  • Hold the mobile device at eye level and keep your back straight. This may literally off weight the neck (Hansraj K Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture a position of the head, Surgical Technology International, 2014).
  • If you must look down, only use your eyes and not your neck/back
  • Take frequent breaks and limit the amount of time you spend on electronic devices
  • Utilize voice to text technology
  • Do strengthening and stretching exercises to target the muscles of the cervical spine
  • Visit a physical therapist who can do a thorough examination and implement a more client-specific treatment plan.

We are here to help. If you feel you need professional help to improve your alignment, posture and help prevent further or future injury please don’t hesitate to contact us (925) 284-6150.

Written by Angela Mead, Physical Therapist at Bay Area Physical Therapy, sister company to Lafayette Physical Therapy, Inc.

Arranged and Edited by Zack Krumland, BSBA, PR & Marketing Coordinator

References: (http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technology-device-ownership-2015).

This article is intended as general health information and is not intended to provide individual specific medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or any other individual. Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting or changing a health, fitness, or nutrition program.

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