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What is Text Neck

Americans are attached to text messaging on their cell phones—and doctors are starting to see the painful results. The distinct posture often seen in texting is causing an overuse syndrome in avid users that’s been labeled “text neck.”

Text neck most commonly causes neck pain and soreness. In addition, looking down at your cell phone too much each day can lead to:

  • Upper back pain ranging from a chronic, nagging pain to sharp, severe upper back muscle spasms.
  • Shoulder pain and tightness, possibly resulting in painful shoulder muscle spasm.
  • Pain radiating down your arm and into your hand.
  • Headaches

Tilting the head forward, as is typically done to view and create text messages, forces the neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments to strain to hold the head up.

In recent years, we physicians are seeing signs of premature degeneration of the spine in patients decades younger than normal. This type of wear-and-tear-related damage has generally been more common in older adults or those in occupations that require keeping the head bent forward for extended periods of time.

A recent study shows that 79% of the population between the ages 18 and 44 have their cell phones with them almost all the time—with only 2 hours of their waking day spent without their cell phone on hand.

Impact on Young Spines

There is special concern about the potential health impact on teenagers—among the most frequent text message users—whose spines are still developing. The posture used in text messaging can lead to advancement of arthritic changes to the spine, bone spurs, and muscle deformity.

Research in the journal Ergonomics points to text messaging being worse for the neck than even other common smartphone tasks. For instance, the angle of the head while texting was more extreme than for web browsing or watching a video. These activities were studied both while the subjects were standing and seated. Researchers found the most damaging position was text messaging while sitting. Some other activities, such as reading a printed book or washing dishes, also prompt people to tilt their heads, but the difference with texting may be that people text or read texts on cell phones for a much longer time and are less likely to shift positions.

Weight of a Human Head

The weight of the head is a key factor. The neck muscles are meant to support the weight of the head in a neutral position—10 to 12 pounds. However, the changes in angle of neck over time when texting on their phones can create up to60 pounds of force on their neck.

Adjustments to Prevent Neck Pain While Texting

  • Raise the phone. Move the cell phone (and other devices) to eye level so the head doesn’t have to be tilted.
  • Take frequent breaks. Spend some time away from the phone—or any type of head-forward posture. Change positions when texting—lying on one's back is an excellent way to relieve pressure on the neck.
  • Stand up straight. Good posture, with the shoulders pulled back, keeps the body aligned in a neutral position.
  • Arch and stretch. Arch the neck and upper back backward periodically to ease muscle pain.
  • Stay fit. A strong, flexible back and neck are more able to handle extra stress.