Since the term “text neck” was coined by a Florida chiropractor and discussed by spine surgeons at Texas Back Institute several years ago, it has made it to the lexicon of parents and physicians. This condition is defined as an “overuse syndrome” involving the head, neck, and shoulders, usually resulting from excessive strain on the spine from looking in a downward position at hand-held devices, such as smartphones, gaming devices, e-readers, and computer tablets.
In spite of the fact that this condition is a royal pain in the neck (and spine), every day more and more kids and adults succumb to the lure of electronic gadgets and games and become a victim of this insidious condition. The reasons for this are simple to understand but difficult to correct, especially among children.
Why the Neck is so Important
Because it acts as a type of “fulcrum” between the head and the other vertebra of the spine, the neck is vulnerable to injury and repetitive stress.
Dr. Rey Bosita, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institutes, notes that “the neck begins at the base of the skull and through a series of seven vertebral segments connects to the thoracic spine. It has an intricate design and the stresses that are placed on it through trauma or even just daily activities such as texting or computer use can cause the cervical spine to be at risk for developing a number of painful conditions.
“The bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the neck all support the spinal cord. This is the primary conduit of communication from the brain to all aspects of the body. Any pain in this region of the spine suggests inflammation or other, more serious conditions and should always be taken seriously.”
Four Ways to Stop Text Neck
For busy adults and teenagers who feel they must check their text messages constantly, as well as youngsters who want to spend hours playing electronic games on handheld devices, there is hope for counteracting the effects of text neck. Here are four ways to avoid or ameliorate this very serious condition.
#1 Level Set
When texting or viewing, one should hold the mobile phone or electronic device at eye level and look down with his or her eyes and not the head. This will reduce the angle of the forward head posture, reducing the stress on the neck. By the way, a typical human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and if hours are spent hunched over a phone, the cumulative pressure on the neck and spine is considerable.
“The proper placement of a computer and monitor is keyboard down and monitor up so that one is looking directly at the monitor,” said Dr. Bosita. “That’s not really compatible with most mobile devices. You can’t really have hands down and head up at the same time with a small device. Placing the device on a table and using some kind of elevated support to keep your hands off is one way to prevent both text neck and carpal tunnel syndrome.
“The compromise is to treat it much like reading a book. Start with the back straight up, elbows well-supported and holding the device not too close to the reader’s eyes.”
#2 Stretch Often
Dr. Bosita suggests performing neck and shoulder rolls throughout the day to release the tension caused by bending down to stare at the various screens.
“It’s also a good idea for everyone – kids and adults – to get up and walk around every hour or so in order to avoid strain on the neck and back. There have also been several recent studies that suggest that chronic conditions, such as heart disease, can be caused by hours of sedentary activity.”
#3 Practice Good Posture
Bending over a computer all day or playing video games for hours is a “recipe” for slouching, and this bad posture is a chief culprit for text neck and other back pain. Overcoming this habit is very difficult and often requires reminders. A simple Post-it note with the admonition to “sit up straight” placed somewhere that is visible all day is one approach. Another tip is to place a rolled up towel between the lower back and the office chair in order to encourage better posture.
“Isometric exercises and yoga can also help encourage better posture,” Dr. Bosita said.
#4 Step Away from the Device!
The most effective tactic to avoid text neck is to reduce the amount of time spent doing this type of activity. It has been estimated that people younger than 30 will send 3,000 texts per month and it is almost impossible to stop this activity cold turkey. However, scheduling “no phone” times during the day can help reduce the amount of time spent texting and still allow someone to conduct business.
Getting kids to reduce the amount of time on gaming devices is a much more difficult task. However, parents have to assume responsibility for their welfare in spite of tantrums and sullen stares.
“The most important thing is setting limits,” Dr. Bosita said. “Giving an iPad or smartphone to a kid should not be open-ended – where the device can be used at any time for as long as possible. Parents should set a certain limit on the use of minutes per day; this will teach the child that they have to turn these devices off.