I was looking at the kids standing at the bus stops this morning on my way into the office, and each one was standing the same way. They were holding their phones by their belly button, with their head bent down at a sharp angle to see the screen. The result of our obsession with the computers in our pockets is a new condition people are calling “text neck”.
What is text neck?
Text neck is the painful condition that results from the combination of neck flexion with forward rolled shoulders. This particular posture causes the muscles on the side of the neck, called the scalenes, to squeeze together. Unfortunately, the nerves going down the arms have to pass through the scalenes to exit the neck, and they can get caught in those muscles when they squeeze. Staring at your phone in this position while sitting, standing or even propping your head up in bed can cause text neck.
As you can see from the picture of the balancing rock, a very heavy weight can be supported by a thin column if it is balanced properly. It is the same with our 11 pound heads balancing on our necks. If the weight is balanced over the spinal column, the neck muscles only have to contract occasionally to keep it in the right spot. The spine can act like a support column. When we are looking down to check out Facebook, the head is not supported by the spine anymore, and the muscles around the neck are tasked with the full job of supporting it. The neck has to act like a fishing pole, straining and bending to hold up the weight.
Symptoms of text neck
The symptoms depend on which muscle starts complaining first. It can cause localized muscle pain in the neck. Pain down your arm or tingling in the hands can come from the overworked muscles pinching on the nerves (similar to sciatica). That headache you are feeling while reading about your relative’s political views? Could be from the way you are holding your head.
Take a look at the position you usually stay in when spending a long time on your phone. If you bend your head down while standing, try holding your phone up higher. If you lie down to surf the web, think about lying on your side to avoid the chin on the chest pose. Just a small change in positioning can make a big difference in avoiding this pain.
An old-fashioned approach
Since our kids seem to be the worst offenders in this department, I suggest a return to our grandmothers’ tactic. Gentle and constant reminders to “Sit up Straight!“, and “Go Outside and Play!”
Make an appointment
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, and if you are near Norwalk, CT and need an appointment to lessen your symptoms of text neck or related problems, click the Book Now button below.