Text Neck: The Toll our Smartphones Take on our Spines

How many times a day do you pick up your phone to send a text? Or read a bit of news? Maybe you just browse your social media here and there. Perhaps you’re reading this blog from your phone right now! Well if you are, do yourself--and your spine--a favor, and pick up your phone from your lap and raise your head to a normal position to prevent “text neck.

“Text neck” describes the pain and injury sustained from looking down at cell phones and iPads for long periods of time, multiple times a day. With the average American spending over four hours a day on their phones alone, more and more people are developing “text neck.”

Why Text Neck Happens

When you spend this many hours a day with your neck in a lowered and incorrect position, you are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on your spine.

When your head is aligned properly, you don’t feel its full weight, which is 10-12 pounds. But as your head bends forward, the pounds of pressure starts to increase to 27, 30, then up to 60 pounds of pressure by the time your head is bent forward 60 degrees. This is an intense amount of weight for your spine to support, especially when you are putting your body through it 4 hour a day! And that 4 hours only accounts for the time spent on your smart devices. Just think of all the hours you spend paying bills, reading, cutting vegetables, etc.

As a result, we are seeing more patients who come into the office complaining of acute, often severe pain without knowing where it came from, and the diagnosis can often be “text neck.”

What’s even scarier? We are seeing this in younger patients, such as those who have grown up with cell phones and reading and playing games on iPads. As these young children are still growing and developing, text neck isn’t just troublesome for today. There are very real issues this creates in the development of a child’s spine that could lead to lifelong repercussions.

Do You Have Text Neck?

How do we assess if an ache or pain we feel is part of the aging process, a result of how we slept, or a sign or something more serious like “text neck?”

The term “neck” in text neck might lead you to think that the neck is the only place where you would feel the impact of overusing devices while holding your head in an improper position. That could be misleading. Although the root of the problem begins by holding your neck in an improper way, the symptoms of text neck often manifest in your back and shoulder. You might have upper back pain, or even upper back muscle spasms, and have sore, tight shoulders with pain radiating throughout. Untreated text neck could also lead to needing more serious interventions. 

How Do You Prevent Text Neck?

Prevent text neck by holding your cell phones at eye level. While this may take some adjusting on your part, it is essential that you try to keep your head and neck in its intended neutral position.

You should try to do this for any activity that may find you hunched over, such as reading from an e-reader or book, or even using your computer. Position all devices so that they are at eye-level, and so that you are not putting strain on your neck and spine by holding your head out of alignment in one direction or the other.

Remember to take breaks often and as you read and look at your devices, continuously assess if your head is in a correct position.

Take time during the day to do light stretches for your head and neck, such as chin tucks, or slowly turning your head side to side.

Incorporate exercises such as yoga and pilates into your routine, so you can strengthen your core and practice good posture. 

Smart devices are here to stay, but that doesn't mean we should sustain injuries from them. As we adapt to emerging technologies, we can also change the way we interact with them.

Dr. Donald Hope