Text neck, sometimes called tech neck, is a repetitive stress injury caused by constantly looking down at your smartphone, laptop or other mobile device. The orthopedic issue isn’t overuse of these devices, but how that overuse negatively affects your body.
The human head weighs between 10 and 13 pounds, which is fairly heavy. Of course, the neck and spine are designed to support that weight. But that’s not the effective weight when the head is bent down looking at a smartphone or laptop computer.
Consider that neutral head posture is when the ears are in line with the neck and shoulders. For every inch of forward head posture, which occurs when looking down at your phone, the effective weight of the head on the cervical spine increases.
A 5-inch forward lean puts a significant amount of weight on the spine. Maintained for long periods during the day—and studies show people spend on average 2-4 hours a day bowing to their smartphones—it can result in pain, strain, pinched nerves, herniated discs and even surgery.
Takeaway: The more you bend your head down to text, the more weight your neck has to carry, which increases the stress to the neck. Young people are most affected by text neck, but older people are catching up.
Symptoms of text neck include:
• Chronic headaches
• Neck and shoulder pain
• Curvature of the spine (especially in children)
What can you do to prevent or reverse the effects of text neck?
As an orthopedist focusing on spine conditions, I frequently counsel patients on proper body mechanics. How you use the various parts of your body has a direct bearing on how well those parts will work and for how long. Here are four simple things you can do to prevent text neck and save yourself a trip to see me.
- Level the playing field: Hold your phone at eye level or look down with your eyes and not your head. This will help reduce the angle of forward head posture, thus reducing the stress on your neck.
- Stretch: Perform neck and shoulder rolls throughout the day to release tension caused by bending down to stare at the screen.
- Practice good posture: Many of us fail when it comes to good posture. Slouching is an easy habit to get into and a hard one to break. Try these tips for improving your posture:
• Pretend that someone is above you pulling a string from the top of your head. This should help you to keep your head up and shoulders back.
• If you work at a desk, you can also place a rolled-up towel behind your lower back to help guide your body to better posture naturally.
- Stop texting . . . so much: On average, men and women under 30 send a minimum of 3,000 texts per month. While quitting texting cold turkey probably isn’t reasonable, you can textless. Try designating “no phone” periods of the day. As an added benefit, the people you are with will appreciate your undivided attention.