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The Dangers of ‘Text Neck’ (and what to do about it))
You’re hitting the gym every day and practicing great posture at your desk job, so why is your back pain sticking around? You might not realize it, but every time you look down at your smartphone to text someone, check email, browse facebook, and so forth, you’re placing unnecessary stress and pressure on your spine and adjacent muscles. Over time, this can lead to damage and chronic pain.
What is ‘Text Neck’?
‘Text neck’, the colloquial term for Forward Head Syndrome, has developed alongside an increasing use of digital devices and is considered a modern spine ailment. What is ‘text neck’ exactly? When the head and neck crane forward past the shoulders and tilt downwards, which commonly happens when you work at the computer or stare down at the smartphone in your hands, this can lead to unnecessary back strain.
The Pew Research Center shares that roughly three-quarters of US adults use a smartphone, many spending upwards of 2 to 4 hours a day with their heads dropped down looking at them. This explosive adoption of technology, combined with growing rates of desk jobs where people working at computers often slouch, slump, and tilt their head forward has some in the medical field crying “epidemic.”
Is Text Neck Dangerous?
One U.S. researcher, Kenneth Hansraj, who is the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine did the calculations and found that for each 15-degree angle forward tilt of your head, the weight on your spine actually increases by multiple pounds.
Think about your head resting in a neutral position aligned vertically with your spine – it might weight 10 or 12 pounds. As you tilt your head forward 15 degrees, the weight of your head actually feels like 27 lbs on your spine now because of gravity’s pull. Tilt it forward 30 degrees and the weight goes up to 40 lbs, 45 degrees feels like 49 lbs, and a full 60 degrees of tilt feels like a whopping 60 lbs of weight on the spine – youch!
Persistent stress like this on the cervical spine can cause chronic muscle tension and inflammation in the neck and back. Symptoms might include low or upper back pain, shoulder pain or tightness, arm numbness and tingling, headache (worsened when looking down at a device), and searing or radiating neck pain.
Naturally Treating Back Pain from Text Neck
Fortunately, back pain from text neck and other common lifestyle factors (bad posture, stress, etc.) can most often be treated with natural remedies and exercise and doesn’t require more invasive medical intervention.
Here are four common natural back pain fixers:
#1. Ice/Heat Therapy – applying a cold pack to sore back and neck muscles will help to temporarily mitigate spasming nerve endings sending pain signals back to the brain. Followed by heat therapy from a warm compress and you’ll help blood vessels open back up and flush out built-up waste products (lactic acid) and toxins to relieve inflammation.
#2. Topical aids – cream, salves, rubs, gels, ointments, sprays, and even roll-ons all incorporate ingredients which help to reduce pain levels of sore muscles and fight inflammation. Pain relief cream for your back should be applied after ice or heat therapy, and can be a helpful alternative to taking over-the-counter NSAIDs or Tylenol.
#3. Massage / Spinal Manipulation – targeted deep pressure massage and spinal manipulation like you might receive from a chiropractor can naturally help relieve muscle stiffness and tension, as well as promote corrected spine alignment and reverse some forward head posture damage.
#4. Exercise / Stretching – routine fitness which helps to strengthen key muscle groups like your core and back can help relieve muscle inflammation and fortify your back against ‘text neck’ damage. Strategic stretching will also help keep muscles pliable and elastic to combat stiffness that leads to bad posture habits. A neck traction device can also help with certain cervical issues and may be prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist, if necessary.
Tips for Avoiding Text Neck
Realizing you have a problem with ‘text neck’ is one thing. Doing something about it is another. Don’t miss these 10 quick tips for avoiding text neck:
- Hold your mobile device at eye level, not at your waist
- Look down with your eyes, and try not to bend your neck down to use your phone
- Use talk-to-text voice recognition instead of typing each text
- Make phone calls instead of texting
- Use a standing desk or laptop/monitor stand to bring your computer to eye level
- Stand up when using your phone and raise it to eye level
- Skip smartphone use before bed where you sit and lie in even more awkward positions
- Practice postural strengthening exercises, like you might find with Pilates or yoga
- Use posture apps like Text Neck Indicator, HeadUp, and Watch Your Neck to engage your smartphone in helping you better use your smartphone
- Maintain body awareness, especially when using smartphones or other digital devices