You can’t go anywhere this day and age without seeing someone looking down at their cell phone. Most of us are guilty of cranking our heads down multiple times a day to scroll social media, check our emails, and respond to texts. All this looking down can lead to neck pain from what medical experts are now calling “Text Neck”.
Your spine consists of 4 major sections:
Your cervical spine is your neck and is made up of seven vertebrae with discs between each of these bones. Normally, the cervical spine has a small curve or lordosis which is there to help with movement and absorb any shock or force through the spine.
The more you look down at your phone, the flatter the cervical spine curve, or lordosis, becomes. This loss of lordosis makes it harder for the spine to absorb any shock or force and compromises its ability to protect your spinal cord and nerves.
The human head generally weighs about 10-12 pounds, but the more you bend your neck forward while looking down, the greater the force on the head, which increases the weight transferred into the cervical spine. For instance, when you are looking downward at about 15 degrees, the weight on the neck is 27 pounds instead of 12. The weight on the neck steadily increases with the angle of looking down.
When the head is at a 60-degree angle, which is about the angle where you are looking down at your cell phone, the weight transferred is up to 60 pounds of force through the neck! The cervical spine isn’t made to carry that additional load for any amount of time—that’s like carrying an 8-year-old child or a husky dog around your neck.
So, if you are in that forward-head position for any length of time, you can start to do serious damage to the joints, nerves, and discs in the cervical spine.
According to research, the average time spent looking down at smartphones is between 2-4 hours per day , with high-schoolers often being the worst offenders. Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, reports that the problem is really profound in younger patients. In younger patients, their spines aren’t finished growing and any prolonged positions can cause permanent changes to the spine itself or surrounding support structures.
Here are some tips to start TODAY to prevent neck pain or postural issues associated with “text neck”:
First and most importantly: always try to sit or stand with good posture. If you are standing slouched over to start with, you are already increasing the forces through the neck. Then, when looking down, you’ll add even more weight to the cervical spine.
Research has shown that this tip was the most effective at keeping text neck away the longest. Bringing the phone up to your eye level will allow you to keep a “neutral spine” and maintain a good posture position without bending the neck forward. You can also prop your elbow on the desk or table when looking at your phone.
Don’t spend more than 3-5 minutes at a time looking down at your phone. Make it a habit of looking up or side to side after every email or article you read. For example, for every email or article read, spend 10 seconds looking up and moving your head.
During phone breaks or time away from your phone or computer, make sure to do some range of motion exercises for your neck. Look up and down, side to side, and bring your ear gently towards each shoulder. These movements will help keep some flexibility in your neck and give the supporting structures of the cervical spine a brief break.
Exercises geared towards strengthening your upper back and the area around the scapula or shoulder blades will also help with your posture long-term and balance out the bad postural habits.
It’s just plain dangerous!!
If you’re experiencing neck pain or other symptoms and the tips above aren’t offering relief physical therapy can help! The clinicians at Rebalance Physical Therapy will assess you holistically and address imbalances throughout the body to help correct your posture, and relieve aches and pains. Click here to schedule your visit with our therapists today!
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