You may have noticed a new word trending in health news recently that goes by the term “text neck”. Text neck is a term used to describe pain and damage in the neck and upper back caused by looking down at your cell phone, tablet, laptop or any other electronic device too frequently and for too long.

Despite the name, the posture that is created when your neck looks down does not only happen when texting or using other electronic devices. Before we had cell phones, we would all look down in this posture to read books. Back when books were more common, text neck was still not a common issue. That is because back when people read instead of looking on their phones or tablets, they likely did not carry a book around in their pocket all day like many of us do today with cell phones and tablets. The posture itself is one thing; but now that we always have our phones with us, it’s the frequency of us looking down at our phones that is making text neck become an epidemic among medical diagnoses.

A recent study has shown that 79% of the population between the ages of 18 and 44 have their cell phones with them almost all the time, with only two hours of their waking day spent without their cell phone on hand.

What is Text Neck? What Causes it?

When you are holding your head in this position, there are extreme amounts of tension that are being created in the deep muscles of your neck as well as into the upper back and shoulders. The pain created can either be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). Headaches can also be associated with this condition.

When your posture is aligned and you are sitting upright with your head centered between your shoulders, the average head weighs around 10-12 pounds. This weight must be held up by your muscles. When your head moves forward by as little as one inch away from its proper position, the weight of your head is dramatically increased. For every inch your head moves forward, it can increase the weight of your head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. That means if your head posture is three inches more forward than it should be, your head would be exerting 42 pounds of your force on your neck and spine when it is meant to only hold 12 pounds! The muscles of your neck, shoulders and upper back now have to work 3.5 times as hard to hold up your head!

What are the Signs & Symptoms?

The most common symptoms of text neck are:

  • Short term pain and soreness in the neck, shoulders and upper back

In addition to the common symptoms, other issues can also occur such as:

  • Chronic long term upper back and shoulder pain, ranging from dull/aching to sharp
  • Muscle spasm causing brief moments of severe pain
  • Pinched nerves in the neck, causing sharp hot pain that can even radiate down into the arm, hands and fingers

How is Text Neck Treated?

There are a variety of ways to treat text neck, including things you can do at home as well as Therapist assisted treatment. Let’s start with the things you can do for home treatment. When it comes to what you can do at home, prevention is essential. Here are some key ways to slow text neck from getting worse or to prevent it all together before it shows up:

  • Whenever possible, hold up your cell phone or tablet at eye level as much as you can. This rule also applies for any kind of screen including computers or laptops. With these devices, the monitor should be in a position where the screen is at eye level and you do not have to bend your head down or forward to see it properly.
  • Take breaks regularly from your phone, tablet or computer throughout the day. To make sure you do this, you can set a timer as a reminder to get up and walk around every 30 minutes.
  • If you work at a desk or in an office, optimize your workspace for ideal posture when working. A popular way of doing this is to use a standing desk. There are many varying models of standing desks on the market, including platforms that can be raised and lowered so that you can alternate between standing and sitting if you get too tired.

The main thing to take away from this is that you want to avoid looking down with your head bending down or extended forward for extended periods of time during your day. Try and take a whole day and be aware of your posture during various activities, not just while on your phone. When you are driving your car, is your head bent forward? What about when you’re watching TV? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, having the head forward or down for any extended period of time puts excessive strain on the muscles that have to support your neck and upper back.

Next we’ll discuss how a Physiotherapist and Massage Therapist can help with the treatment of this condition when what you’re doing on your own just isn’t enough:

  • Most people don’t realize this, but core muscles (this includes the abdominals as well as the muscles in your lower back) have to be strong. This is because these muscles support the entire upper body, including your upper back, shoulders and neck. In a typical day, these muscles do not get enough exercise. With the help of a Physiotherapist, an exercise plan can be given out to specifically target these muscles that are essential to hold the upper body and neck upright.
  • Your neck muscles need to be strong and functional, but that’s not all. The muscles of your neck and shoulders also need to be flexible in order to minimize the amount of strain on your neck, therefore helping to support the weight of your head. Again, during most days our necks do not receive sufficient stretching and strengthening.  A Physiotherapist can help teach you proper exercises and stretches.
  • Another way to alleviate the tension in your neck and shoulder muscles is to get a Therapeutic Massage. Most of us don’t regularly stretch these muscles, and even if we do, sometimes that just isn’t enough to loosen up those tight muscles from the years of wear and tear we’ve put them through. Having a Massage Therapist manually loosen up those muscles can be extremely beneficial, especially when home care isn’t enough to get the job done.

If you believe that you or somebody that you know has text neck, call Nose Creek Sport Physiotherapy at 403.295.8590. A thorough assessment and treatment plan can be done by one of our Physiotherapists or you can book an appointment for a Massage and loosen up any of those problematic muscles to get long term relief.

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