Virtually unheard of two years ago, “text neck” is a repetitive strain injury that’s becoming more common as more people hunch over smartphones. Aggravating muscle pain in the neck and shoulders, and sometimes lower back, is occurring even in teens and adolescents.
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“Typically, incidence of neck pain increases with age. But today we’re seeing and treating more patients — younger patients — who never reported neck pain before,” says Robert Bolash, MD, a pain specialist at Cleveland Clinic.
A load of hurt
How can using a smartphone or other mobile device cause so much hurt? It’s all in how you look at it. Literally. Looking down, dropping your head forward, changes the natural curvature of your neck. Over time, that misalignment can strain muscles and cause wear and tear on the structures of the neck.
According to Dr. Bolash, three things happen when you drop your head:
- Your neck moves forward.
- Your shoulders round forward or lift up toward your ears.
- Your neck and shoulder muscles spasm (contract).
“Neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head, about 10 to 12 pounds,” says Dr. Bolash. “Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles. Looking down at your smartphone, with your chin to your chest, can put about 60 pounds of force on your neck.”
Besides muscle pain, text neck can cause a host of other health concerns. Sitting in a slumped position restricts your lungs’ ability to expand, impairing your lung capacity. Inhaling less oxygen means your heart needs to pump harder to distribute more oxygen-carrying blood through your body.
Three tricks to nix text neck
To nix text neck, improve your posture. Dr. Bolash recommends you:
- Straighten up. Learn proper posture and neck alignment by peeking at your profile in a mirror. If you’re standing correctly, you should be able to draw a vertical line from your ear to your shoulder.
- Arch back. If your posture isn’t perfect, try doing shoulder extensions. Arch your neck and upper back backward, pulling your shoulders into alignment under your ears. This simple stretch can alleviate stress and muscle pain.
- Look forward. Rather than tilting your chin down to read your mobile device, raise the device to eye level. The same goes for your desktop computer. Your monitor screen should be at eye level so your head isn’t perpetually dropping and causing muscle strain.
Another texting injury: BlackBerry® thumb
While not part of text neck, BlackBerry thumb (hand, finger or thumb pain named after the popular mobile device) is another texting-induced repetitive strain injury.
“A topical pain reliever may help soothe a strained tendon,” says Dr. Bolash. “But, ideally, you should limit how much you’re texting. Composing a manuscript with your thumbs, on a screen that’s a couple of inches wide, isn’t what mobile devices were made for.”