Look up. That's right — I dare you to look up wherever you are and count just how many people are looking down at some sort of digital device. It's the majority, right? I say that because whenever I conduct this experiment at random, it's always the majority, no matter where I am. And I get it. Thanks to the flashy apps, endless scrolls, and instant gratification that stems from social media, it's hard not to keep our eyes glued down at those glassy screens.
But what if I told you the more time you spend looking down into the digital world, the more you increase your risk of developing severe, long-term neck damage? Unfortunately, it's true. What's more? According to Dr. Ken Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, the painful burden that comes along from staring down at devices — also known as "text neck" — is rapidly becoming a global epidemic. Keep reading to learn more about this spinal syndrome and the steps you can take to avoid it.
What exactly is text neck?
Whether or not you've ever heard of text neck, there's a good chance you've already felt it. You know that tightness and/or tinge of pain that slowly starts creeping up your neck and upper back after you've looked down at your phone for a long period of time? Well, that's the start of text neck. It's the term used to describe this type of pain when looking down.
As Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, states, "Looking down puts pressure on the front of the neck and gaps the back. This is especially troublesome as it can cause intervertebral discs to migrate backward, thereby increasing the chances for disc bulges. It also strains the back of the neck as the muscles on the backside are in a constant state of contraction, trying to pull and support the head in this too-far-forward position. That leads to muscle strain and pain on the back of the neck."
Furthermore, when you continue to look down and bend your neck, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. For comparison, that's like carrying an 8-year-old around your neck for several hours per day. Ouch much?
More so, this strain will then create tightness on the front of the neck and chest, which can lead to severe discomfort — if not dysfunction — in the shoulders overtime.
What are the symptoms associated with text neck?
The most common symptoms associated with text neck are pain and soreness, including chronic, sharp, and nagging discomfort, as well as severe muscle spasms. However, if a cervical nerve happens to become pinched, it is possible for the pain to radiate down your arm and into your hand.
Over time, text neck can result in much more serious damage, including onset arthritis, flattening of the spinal curve, spinal degeneration, and even spinal misalignment.
How common is text neck?
Unfortunately, as people are becoming more reliant on smartphones and other mobile devices, this syndrome is being quite common. Recent studies have shown text neck is a risk for approximately 58 percent of American adults who own smartphones.
What adjustments can be made to prevent neck pain when texting or using technology?
The good news is that text neck can be prevented with one extremely simple solution: keeping your head up!
Start being cognizant and make a conscious effort to look down at your devices with your eyes, instead of with your head and neck. Move your phone to eye level to avoid tilting, if you have to.
A few other tips for avoiding text neck:
- Take frequent breaks from technology and/or change your position. For instance, try lying on your back to relieve pressure on your neck.
- Straighten your back and practice good posture. By keeping your shoulders pulled back, your body will stay aligned in a neutral position.
- Exercise and stretch. Arching your neck and upper back in a backward motion from time to time will also help ease muscle pain. And if you're near a wall, this shoulder and neck stretch will also work wonders.