“TEXT NECK”… A GLOBAL EPIDEMIC

Physiotherapy

As a physiotherapist, I see many neck and lower back cases.  An increasing number of these spinal cases are children coming in, together with their concerned parents, often trying to understand why their young child has neck pain, lower back pain or both!  It’s not just my observation, but also a growing trend across the globe that shows that younger and younger patients are seeking treatment for spinal pain.  To make matters worse, this problem doesn’t look like it’s going to resolve on its own, or anytime soon.  

 

Mobile Devices Quite recently, the term “text neck” was coined.  It describes the curvature of the spine caused by the hunching back that people have, particularly after spending many hours bent over their phones.  Thanks to the advances of technology and uses of smart phones and tablets, now our society is literally experiencing an epidemic of back and neck problems!   People spend an average of 2-4 hours a day with their heads titled down at their handphones, according to a recent study in 2014.  In addition, young children may spend up to 5,000 hours a year looking at their phones.  TEXT NECK - Caused by bending over electronic devices for several hours a day. - It is an epidemic. - Across the globe, it is on the rise in young children and teenagers. - Quite recently, the global audience has been engaged through social media and news, giving us greater awareness. - It involves putting the spinal cord or spinal nerves in a compromised position. - Text neck can change our body structure (such as the spine and spinal cord, muscles, ligaments) and in advanced cases, lead to irreversible spinal damage, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.  

Mobile Devices

Quite recently, the term “text neck” was coined.  It describes the curvature of the spine caused by the hunching back that people have, particularly after spending many hours bent over their phones.  Thanks to the advances of technology and uses of smart phones and tablets, now our society is literally experiencing an epidemic of back and neck problems! 

 People spend an average of 2-4 hours a day with their heads titled down at their handphones, according to a recent study in 2014.  In addition, young children may spend up to 5,000 hours a year looking at their phones. 

TEXT NECK

- Caused by bending over electronic devices for several hours a day.

- It is an epidemic.

Across the globe, it is on the rise in young children and teenagers.

Quite recently, the global audience has been engaged through social media and news, giving us greater awareness.

It involves putting the spinal cord or spinal nerves in a compromised position.

Text neck can change our body structure (such as the spine and spinal cord, muscles, ligaments) and in advanced cases, lead to irreversible spinal damage, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

 

X ray image (left): Normal postural alignment of the neck - cervical spine X ray image (right): Excessive curvature of the neck - cervical spine

X ray image (left): Normal postural alignment of the neck - cervical spine

X ray image (right): Excessive curvature of the neck - cervical spine

Common Ailments - Pain or stiffness, commonly in the neck or back.  - Muscle spasms, commonly in the shoulder, neck or back.  - Neurological symptoms, commonly in the form of radiating pain or numbness may be present in the arm to the hand. - Headaches, commonly present with stress, tension or an increased work load.  - For those who wish to understand more about text neck, I’ve provided further information in the “Physio Fact” [link with section below] section below.   Or you may skip to the end of this article, where I have recommended some “Basic Postural Exercises” [link with section below] that should help with reversing simple neck pains associated with text neck and is great for overall postural alignment. Physio Fact #1:  Your Head is Like a Bowling Ball  In terms of weight, a person’s head is like a bowling ball (roughly 8 percent of their body weight).  - If you’re like most of us reading this on your screen, and much of your waking hours is in front of your mobile, laptop or computer – ie., at work, school or home - likely your posture has caused you some discomfort or pain, at one time or another.  - So when you’re looking at a mobile device, that bowling ball – oops, excuse me – that head that weighs about 12 pounds, can place about 60 pounds of strain on the neck (refer to illustration 1) which is often held in a prolonged posture [link with section below].  - This has been recognized as the leading cause of text neck.  

Common Ailments

Pain or stiffness, commonly in the neck or back. 

- Muscle spasms, commonly in the shoulder, neck or back. 

Neurological symptoms, commonly in the form of radiating pain or numbness may be present in the arm to the hand.

Headaches, commonly present with stress, tension or an increased work load. 

- For those who wish to understand more about text neck, I’ve provided further information in the “Physio Fact[link with section below] section below.   Or you may skip to the end of this article, where I have recommended some “Basic Postural Exercises [link with section below] that should help with reversing simple neck pains associated with text neck and is great for overall postural alignment.

Physio Fact #1:  Your Head is Like a Bowling Ball

 In terms of weight, a person’s head is like a bowling ball (roughly 8 percent of their body weight). 

- If you’re like most of us reading this on your screen, and much of your waking hours is in front of your mobile, laptop or computer – ie., at work, school or home - likely your posture has caused you some discomfort or pain, at one time or another. 

- So when you’re looking at a mobile device, that bowling ball – oops, excuse me – that head that weighs about 12 pounds, can place about 60 pounds of strain on the neck (refer to illustration 1) which is often held in a prolonged posture [link with section below]

- This has been recognized as the leading cause of text neck.

 

Illustration 1 (Taken from Dr Kenneth K. Hansraj, N.Y. Spine Surgery & Rehabilitative Medicine).  The head weighs around 10 to 12 lbs in sitting or standing.  When the spine is bent forward at various degrees, weight is added on.  An adult head weighs  approximately 8 percent of a person’s body weight – that’s about 10-12 pounds when held in the neutral position.  At 15 degrees, 27 pounds is added to the spine. At 30 degrees, 40 pounds is added and at 45 degrees, 49 pounds is put against the neck.    Physio Fact #2:  Text neck is a Pain in the Neck!  - Over the course of the day – for months, years or decades - most people tend to neglect their posture.  This is of course, because people don’t see themselves looking down at their hand held devices and their relatives, friends or acquaintances are too courteous to point out their poor posture (or could it be they are also on their mobile devices?) - At work, home or play - for hours on end - anything less than an optimal posture will commonly aggravate pain or symptoms in the neck or back. - Text neck can be a “Pain in the Neck!” -  The most basic way of understanding this, is that the supporting structures in the front of our neck will become tight and the structures at the back of our neck, become overstretched.  - Structural changes will show in the muscles, ligaments and discs supporting the spine, and mostly is unnoticeable to the untrained eye. - Many people self-correct their posture when they are in front of the mirror.  However, this is only for a fraction of their daily life.    Physio Fact #3: Text neck is Reversible! - It can be progressive.  It can also be reversible. - Generally, the earlier you seek proper treatment, the better. \ - To ease less serious symptoms, sometimes just having some postural awareness and doing some postural exercise, is all that is needed. Degenerative Changes Degenerative changes in the spine (that normally occur with progressing age), now show earlier on X Rays or MRI films (refer to illustration 2) [link with section ABOVE].  These changes have been known to be closely associated with 1) referred pain, 2) numbness and 3) irreversible nerve damage… a big and serious “pain in the neck”! [link with “Pain in the neck” section ABOVE] Don’t wait for these changes to happen!   

Illustration 1 (Taken from Dr Kenneth K. Hansraj, N.Y. Spine Surgery & Rehabilitative Medicine).  The head weighs around 10 to 12 lbs in sitting or standing.  When the spine is bent forward at various degrees, weight is added on.  An adult head weighs  approximately 8 percent of a person’s body weight – that’s about 10-12 pounds when held in the neutral position.  At 15 degrees, 27 pounds is added to the spine. At 30 degrees, 40 pounds is added and at 45 degrees, 49 pounds is put against the neck. 

 

Physio Fact #2:  Text neck is a Pain in the Neck!

 - Over the course of the day – for months, years or decades - most people tend to neglect their posture.  This is of course, because people don’t see themselves looking down at their hand held devices and their relatives, friends or acquaintances are too courteous to point out their poor posture (or could it be they are also on their mobile devices?)

- At work, home or play - for hours on end - anything less than an optimal posture will commonly aggravate pain or symptoms in the neck or back.

- Text neck can be a “Pain in the Neck!”

-  The most basic way of understanding this, is that the supporting structures in the front of our neck will become tight and the structures at the back of our neck, become overstretched. 

- Structural changes will show in the muscles, ligaments and discs supporting the spine, and mostly is unnoticeable to the untrained eye.

- Many people self-correct their posture when they are in front of the mirror.  However, this is only for a fraction of their daily life. 

 

Physio Fact #3: Text neck is Reversible!

- It can be progressive.  It can also be reversible.

- Generally, the earlier you seek proper treatment, the better. \

- To ease less serious symptoms, sometimes just having some postural awareness and doing some postural exercise, is all that is needed.

Degenerative Changes

Degenerative changes in the spine (that normally occur with progressing age), now show earlier on X Rays or MRI films (refer to illustration 2) [link with section ABOVE].  These changes have been known to be closely associated with 1) referred pain, 2) numbness and 3) irreversible nerve damage… a big and serious “pain in the neck”! [link with “Pain in the neck” section ABOVE] Don’t wait for these changes to happen! 

 

Take Control and Make Some Changes First! 1.    Hold your phone to eye level that can help better align your posture. 2.    Change positions when texting and place the phone away after every 20 to 30 minutes. 3.    Adopt a good posture, with your shoulders relaxed and your body aligned in a neutral position. 4.    Exercise throughout the day, paying particular attention to arch the neck and upper back backward to stretch and ease muscle tension. 5.    General fitness will help your body maintain strength and flexibility and may be less prone to text neck. 6.    Setting up your work station so that you are looking forward and your head aligned in a neutral position should help reduce symptoms of text neck.  If it doesn't, your symptoms could be other issues such as having a tight neck or back structures, muscular fatigue or other ergonomic issues.  Your physiotherapist can advise you, based on your working conditions and lifestyle. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Text neck is reversible if detected and managed early with awareness, exercise and physiotherapy!  The Three Basic Postural Exercises  [link with section below].  that I’ve included (below) are often prescribed to those patients that benefit from postural training.  When done correctly, these exercises alone can help relieve and manage simple neck pain.  However, if these exercises cause you anything more than an aching, muscular discomfort, please stop and consult your physician.  Three Basic Postural Exercises If you have a medical condition, or are already in pain and it is severe, or if the above exercises aggravate your pain further, you should always consult with your orthopedic doctor or physiotherapist.   

Take Control and Make Some Changes First!

1.    Hold your phone to eye level that can help better align your posture.

2.    Change positions when texting and place the phone away after every 20 to 30 minutes.

3.    Adopt a good posture, with your shoulders relaxed and your body aligned in a neutral position.

4.    Exercise throughout the day, paying particular attention to arch the neck and upper back backward to stretch and ease muscle tension.

5.    General fitness will help your body maintain strength and flexibility and may be less prone to text neck.

6.    Setting up your work station so that you are looking forward and your head aligned in a neutral position should help reduce symptoms of text neck.  If it doesn't, your symptoms could be other issues such as having a tight neck or back structures, muscular fatigue or other ergonomic issues.  Your physiotherapist can advise you, based on your working conditions and lifestyle.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Text neck is reversible if detected and managed early with awareness, exercise and physiotherapy! 

The Three Basic Postural Exercises  [link with section below].  that I’ve included (below) are often prescribed to those patients that benefit from postural training.  When done correctly, these exercises alone can help relieve and manage simple neck pain. 

However, if these exercises cause you anything more than an aching, muscular discomfort, please stop and consult your physician. 

Three Basic Postural Exercises

If you have a medical condition, or are already in pain and it is severe, or if the above exercises aggravate your pain further, you should always consult with your orthopedic doctor or physiotherapist

 

Remember…your relatives, friends or acquaintances will be too kind to point out any form of poor posture. Furthermore, they may not be qualified to give you the proper advice that you need.  Let’s look forward to starting the year of the Rooster with positive, healthy changes!  Afterall…Health is Wealth!   Article contributed by: Peter Limb (Physiotherapist) PhysioKit SG    

Remember…your relatives, friends or acquaintances will be too kind to point out any form of poor posture. Furthermore, they may not be qualified to give you the proper advice that you need.  Let’s look forward to starting the year of the Rooster with positive, healthy changes!  Afterall…Health is Wealth!

 

Article contributed by:

Peter Limb (Physiotherapist)

PhysioKit SG