Text Neck – The Next American Epidemic

Advancements in technology have made all of our lives easier. Imagine a life where Siri isn’t around to give directions to the closest Starbucks, or answer random questions. Smart phones might as well do chores because they are an integral part of the family. Is it possible, however, that there is a downside to this phone relationship? A growing body of evidence appears to suggest this.

Computers and smart phones garner our attention two to four hours a day according to numerous estimates. This shouldn’t be an issue, except that our posture is less than ideal while using them. Typically, the user has their neck flexed for an extended period of time and this creates structural problems. The head typically weighs 10-12 pounds. As it moves away from the body, it gets relatively heavier and strains the muscles, ligaments and bones of the cervical spine. It is suggested that for every inch the skull moves forward from a neutral position, it gains ten pounds. To experience this, hold a ten pound weight with two hands next to the chest and see how long it can be held. Next, extend the arms away from the body and see how long the weight remains elevated. One can imagine it becomes a harder task in the extended position as time progresses. The same difficulty experienced in position two is what the neck experiences during prolonged head flexion. This is what many refer to as text neck.

Why is this bad? Text neck forces the ligaments, muscles, and bones of the cervical spine to compensate for the poor posture. The cervical vertebrae may form bone spurs for stability, ligaments might become thicker, and muscles can become tightened to counteract the strain. This could cause neck pain, headaches, TMJ and many more conditions including back pain! How could poor head posture possibly cause low back pain? The spinal cord is anchored firmly near the top and bottom of the spinal column. Specifically, it is anchored to the cranium around the foramen magnum and down in the pelvis attached to the coccyx. When the head is flexed, it actually lengthens the entire spinal cord. This physical arrangement causes tension in the cord to be transmitted to other areas, rather than just locally. Therefore, tension in the neck can be experienced in the low back as well. If there is any pre-existing pathology in the lumbar spine it will be at an increased risk to cause low back pain because of the increased pressure! Text neck may just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What can be done to address this? To begin with, holding a smart phone at eye level will not require the head to be flexed. It may not always be practical to do this, but when it can be done it will spare the neck unnecessary strain. Also, chiropractors, physical therapists and other health care practitioners frequently are able to make ergonomic recommendations as well as address any of the body’s compensations and symptoms secondary to the abnormal head position.

The advent of smart phones is a phenomenon. We live in a day where limitless information is constantly at our fingertips. Unfortunately, there is a downside. As the idiom goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. The text neck population is increasing as more and more people get their hands on the latest smart phone. Don’t become the next victim. Be mindful of this troublesome posture and avoid a future pain in the neck!

Grant Tully is a chiropractor who focuses on structural correction. He is planning to open a practice in metro Detroit in the near future.