Could You Have 'Texting Neck?'

If you’re anything like me you have your entire world on your cell phone. Contact information, a calendar full of appointments, important emails and even more important baby pictures. It is estimated that the average adult checks his or her cell phone 85 times a day. That equates to 23 days a year or 3.9 years of your life that you spend staring at that small screen. High school-aged individuals spend an additional 5,000 hours a year on their phones compared to the rest of us. It is apparent how important cell phones are in our lives and especially in our teen’s lives. The issue is that our bodies are not made to maintain this typical “cell phone posture” for long periods of time. This means that people are getting injured and an alarming amount of teens and adolescents with “text neck” pain are popping up in physical therapy clinics.

What is text neck?
Text neck is the nickname for any neck, upper/mid back pathology directly caused by the poor posture of looking down at your cell phone. The average adult head weighs approximately 11 pounds. The musculoskeletal system of our upper spine/neck is designed to carry this amount of weight if everything is aligned in good posture. However, for every inch that the head is tilted forward, the pressure on the spine doubles. This does not mean that you have to walk around with your neck perfectly straight all of the time. The neck is supposed to be very mobile and is designed for you to be able to look up, down, and all around. The issue is when this poor posture is sustained over a long period of time. Think of your spine in good posture like your finger pointed straight up. You can move your finger all around in different directions without pain. Now take your finger and pull it back as far as it goes. Initially there is no pain, possibly a little discomfort, but nothing too serious. If you were to continue to hold it there for several minutes you would eventually start to experience pain. That is your spine in poor posture. Now think if you were to bend your finger back to its limit and hold it there 85 times a day for several weeks, months, or even years and it makes sense how you might injure your finger. Same goes for the neck.

Posture, posture, posture
When the structures around the neck are held in a poor posture, several things can happen. A muscle strain or ligament sprain can result as the tissues are stretched past their normal limits. Nerve impingement and even disc pathologies can also occur when our weight is not distributed evenly throughout the disc. When we hold our neck out, we also tend to let our shoulders round and we stoop over. This position can eventually become your “new normal” and muscles will adapt to this new way of carrying your body. Some muscle groups become short and tight and restrict motion; others become lengthened and weak.

What can I do?
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid text neck. Instead of looking down at your phone, bring it up to eye level or look down with your eyes instead of tipping your whole head down. Practice good posture in all aspects of your life. Cell phones aren’t the only culprit for these types of injuries. If you read books often, raise them up to your eye level as well. If you have a desk job, take breaks every hour and stand up or walk around for a bit. Put a sticky note on your computer to remind you to sit up tall. Make sure your computer is at eye level and so you’re not tipping your head up or down to look at the screen. Squeeze your shoulder blades together often to keep you from rounding them forward.

Don’t think you can kick the poor posture habit or remember to separate yourself from your phone or computer? Well, there’s an app for that. Dozens of apps can be found in your app store including ‘Move it!’ Or ‘Nudge Me’ to remind you to unplug from the tech world for a while. Think of it as technology to save you from technology.

Paige Raab, PT, DPT is a licensed physical therapist at Mettler Center. Do you have questions regarding good posture and ergonomics? Ask an Expert. Do you have neck pain or soreness? Your injury can be evaluated by a physical therapist who can detect functional problems and make the best possible recommendation for treatment. Call 217-398-9800 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a physical therapist or request an appointment online.