Smartphone use and its effects on the spine | Text Neck : An overview
Repetitive stress injury or an overuse syndrome is a condition rooting from repetitive stress and strain on any muscle of our body. Overtime, stress and strain takes a toll on the functioning of our body and could sooner or later cause a malfunction, resulting in pain known as text neck .
“Text neck” or “tech neck” is a stress injury which is increasingly common today. It results from excessive mobile phone usage such as texting or watching videos; while doing such activities for a long period of time, the head is consistently held in a forward bent or downward posture (sometimes known as a “turtle neck posture”).
“Text neck is now considered the new arthritis. Traditionally, arthritis develops in our late 40s. However, with improper habits, I believe we will start to see individuals with spinal arthritis in their late 20s and 30s.” – Dr. Rashad Sanford (founder of Atlanta Spine Doctors)
The increased occurrence of these pains is due to the inevitable desire of interacting with our handheld devices. We usually forget to stretch out and change the alignment of neck, thus keeping it in one position for a long time. This results in a TEXT NECK deformity.
What is the root cause of the problem?
The human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. For every inch of head tilted forward from the neutral position, the stress on neck increases exponentially. In an upright posture, the neutral position of the neck is when the ears are in line with the shoulders.
Whenever a person does an activity involving his or her head to sway forward from this position; an excessive amount of tension is created in the neck muscles and across the shoulders, causing acute and chronic neck pain, inflammation of ligaments and nerve irritation.
The same tension also puts stress on the spine. Leaving this un-treated may result in an increased spinal curvature.
A useful co-relation between tilt of head and the force exerted on neck is shown below.
Forward tilt of the Head Extra force exerted on the Neck
15 degrees 27 Lb
30 degrees 40 Lb
45 degrees 49 Lb
60 degrees 60 Lb
Now, most smart phone users bend their necks forward to an angle of 60 degrees!
That accounts for 60 pounds of undue stress on the spine—the weight equivalent to an average 8-year-old child!
People across the globe spend an average of two to four hours a day with t heir heads bent forward while reading or texting. Cumulatively, this comes down to 700 to 1400 hours of excessive stress over a period of one year.
Symptoms of TEXT NECK:
• Stiff and sore neck
• Dull pain at some certain spot on the neck or diffused over an area (usually lower neck). Could be a sharp or stabbing pain in extreme cases
• Pain radiating to the shoulders and arms
• Weakness of shoulder muscles
• Cervicogenic Headaches: sub-occipital muscle tightness, leading to tension type headaches
When the head is tilted forward, it shifts the body’s center of gravity, which in turn sets off a domino effect in our body.
To compensate this shift, the hips tilt forward and the upper body drifts backward, tightening the upper back muscles.
Over time, it causes:
• Flattening of thoracic kyphosis
• An early onset of arthritis
• Spinal degeneration
• Disc compression
• Muscle weakness
• Loss of lung capacity
Most people deal with such symptoms for years before realizing what causes them. They often write off their neck and back pain or the tingling in their hands, as a “normal part of aging” but, it is not.
Even when they do seek medical care, they often resort to unnecessary surgery because the presence of an easy and a non-invasive solution is unknown to them.
There are easier ways however.
Chiropractors are trained to deal with this and they can help.
• Adjustments: If your neck is mostly bent causing misalignment of your spine, some gentle movements of certain joints and a controlled application of force on the pressure points of the body is carried out.
Thus, realigning the spine and correcting postural flaws.
• Graston Technique: Used to locate the muscle knots or restrictions. It is done by running stainless steel tools over your skin to feel for the fibrous or scarred tissue, which is the cause for your pain or restricted movement. After the source is found, the tools are used to break up that tissue and restore mobility. Using specialized equipment, this therapy enables a chiropractor to break up the “glue” and reverse the tight or inflamed muscles to a much more relaxed and natural state.
• The strength and flexibility of your muscles eases the effort needed to maintain a good posture. Chiropractors also prescribe targeted stretches to help increase body’s strength and flexibility.
Since text neck is caused by misalignment of the vertebrae in the neck, it is very important to see a specialist on time, before the symptoms get severe.
By keeping your spine healthy and strong, ear;y intervention and the right therapy would alleviate the symptoms and prevent them from happening in the future.