Text Neck or Tech Neck?

tech neck

The young person’s daily habit that’s a literal pain in the neck…and back…and shoulders

There are many harsh realities of life to accept as we get older. Like the realisation it takes twice as long to look half as good. And the fact that those aches and strains are a lot more common than they once were. When did getting out of bed start to elicit a quick intake of breath and maybe a groan or two as those hardworking joints start to unstiffen? Or maybe that’s just me.

However, there’s a new kid on the block as far as pain is concerned. It’s no respecter of age – in fact it’s pain that’s far more prevalent in the young than in other demographic. And it goes by the name of Text Neck.

You may have seen them. The people, and yes, they’re often children and adolescents, who spend what seems like hours slumped over their mobile phones.You see them waiting in a coffee shops, or sitting on trains, or maybe just walking down the street. Not only do they fail to check their environment, which is a danger in itself, they also keep their heads flexed forward in the same position, for a prolonged period of time, storing up a whole range of aches, pains and musculoskeletal problems for the future.

Text Neck, or Tech Neck as it’s sometimes called, is simply an overuse syndrome. The term was coined in the US by Dr Dean L Fishman and describes a repetitive strain injury that is becoming more prevalent as people become more and more dependent on their handheld devices. Text neck isn’t necessarily confined to mobiles, it could occur with e-readers, computers or tablets. And it doesn’t only include the act of texting. People are using their phones for all manner of activities – anything from gaming to catching up on Facebook and browsing the internet.

It’s sobering to think that many people are actually hunching over a smartphone for around three or more hours a day. They often, typically crane their necks forward 45 degrees when sending a text message, placing a load of almost 22kg on the spine, muscles and cervical ligaments. That’s almost like carrying around a small child around with you day after day!

Text Neck is a growing health concern because if not treated or corrected, it could lead to sustained pain and discomfort.  Muscles at the base of the neck can go into spasm causing headaches, neck, back, and even jaw pain. Balance can also be affected. Long term,it may also be responsible for inflammation and future permanent damage of the neck muscles and ligaments.

So what to do about it? How do you prevent the young experiencing the sort of discomfort and stiffness that normally affects older people, way before their time?

Treating Text Next typically involves a dual approach:

  1. You discourage all those bad habits and encourage new, healthier ones. So when they next use a smartphone or other device, they should raise it up, closer to eye level so that the head doesn’t have to tip forward. Stand up straight, tucking the chin in and pull back the shoulders. This keeps the body aligned in a neutral position, improving the posture. Arch the neck and upper back from time to time to ease any muscle pain. Also, and probably most importantly, take frequent breaks, spending time away from the device.
  2. The second part of the approach comprises regular exercise. Recent research indicates that children and teenagers who are regularly active in team or endurance sports are likely to have less neck pain. However, any exercise programme that helps reduce forward head posture and alleviate imbalance can help. The type of activities that have been shown to be of assistance include yoga, Pilates and the Alexander technique.

Physical therapy may also be of benefit. For example an Osteopath can give a thorough examination in order to diagnose Text Neck and maybe use gentle manipulation and/or devise a programme of home exercises to improve neck strength and flexibility.

Of course there are also apps that enable you to limit screen time – but that might take a bit more convincing.