Mobile Devices Are a Pain in the Neck
‘Text neck’ is real. Here’s what experts advise about prevention.
By Lindsey Nolen
Posted on: February 29, 2016
Americans now spend an average of 4.7 hours a day on their smart phones -more than their counterparts in at least 11 countries around the world, according to a February 2015 report from Informate Mobile Intelligence. While the use of mobile phones may provide convenience, that accessibility creates new physical risks such as the development of “text neck.”
About ‘Text Neck’
“Text neck” is the term used to describe the musculoskeletal effects of overusing handheld mobile technology. Capable of affecting all ages, text neck leads to head, neck and shoulder problems, caused primarily by excessive strain on the spine from repeatedly looking in a downward position at a handheld mobile device, according to the Text Neck Institute (http://text-neck.com/).
“Text neck is a relatively recent phenomenon caused by people looking down at their cell phones, which is the equivalent to a 60-pound weight on their neck. The average head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, so tilting it down significantly increases the gravitational pull,” explained Hooman Melamed MD, a spine surgeon at Disc Sports & Spine in Marina del Rey, Calif “This constant pressure can lead to early degeneration of the spine and even a need for neck surgery.”
Symptoms of text neck include headaches, achy shoulders, pinched nerves and muscle strain. If untreated, the condition can result in serious and permanent damage including: flattening of the spinal curve; spinal degeneration; disc herniation; muscle damage; loss of lung volume capacity; onset of early arthritis; spinal misalignment; disc compression; and nerve damage or gastrointestinal problems, the Text Neck Institute reports.
Straightening Out Text Neck
“One simple fix to improve text neck is to hold your elbows closer together when holding your phone. If using one hand, hold the elbow closer to the center of your chest,” explained Jason Hare, DC, a chiropractor at Pure Chiropractic in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. “The explanation is that by holding the elbow in, the arm is more externally rotated and the head can be held upright. Plus, the phone is now higher so you don’t have to have such a deep neck flexion.”
Brian Paris, MD, of Advanced Spine & Wellness Center in Rockville, MD, further suggests that mobile device users should use the technology in 10-minute intervals and take 10-second breaks to correct posture in between usages. To correct posture, he recommends a person first stand up and grip the floor with feet. Next, they should pull their belly button into the spine and drop the hands. Then, they should stand up tall, fully stretching out the spine.
“15 years of practice in posture correction led me to a firm understanding of ideal posture,” Paris said in an interview with ADVANCE. “Text neck is the opposite of ideal posture. I designed this process to specifically reverse text neck and attain ideal posture for less pain and better function for people of all ages.”
Additionally, by training one’s self to raise a cell phone to eye level, users can help alleviate the consequential head, neck and spine pressure. If eye level placement of a phone or computer isn’t an option, it does not mean a person must hunch over. Instead, they should train themselves to look down with just their eyes, not their whole head.
Text Neck Indicator
In an attempt to reduce the prevalence of text neck, the founder of the Text Neck Institute, Dean L. Fishman, MD, has worked to identify the best treatment techniques for repetitive stress injuries caused by use of handheld mobile devices. This led to his development of the Text Neck Indicator.
“We performed a case study here, which revealed a significant improvement in cervical spine curvature on pre and post x-rays, improvement in range of motion, and a decrease in symptoms when the participants changed their mobile device habits and utilized the devices with proper posture after just one month,” Fishman said. “The knowledge gained from that case study led me to develop this technology, which constantly yet quietly reminds the user to maintain and then adopt new postural habits while using mobile devices.”
Through this application, when the phone is held at an acceptable angle for viewing, a green indicator light is present in the top corner of the phone. When the phone is held at an unacceptable viewing angle that puts the user at risk for text neck, a red indicator light is visible in the top corner. An optional vibration or beep notification can also be turned on to alert when the user is at risk. Building muscle memory will help create new postural habits, ultimately leading to a reduction in symptoms or presentation of text neck.
“We receive emails that have shared stories of personal success stories regarding a decrease in pain as well as bringing awareness to the problem,” Fishman said. “Many emails have been from parents who have been able to easily tell the story of text neck to their children and help them to create new habits at an early age.”
Ultimately, the ability of a mobile device to cause pain really depends on how you look at it-literally. If experiencing mobile phone-related pain, users should avoid looking down at their phones for extended periods of time and become mindful of their posture. In an ever-growing digital society, tech users must begin to monitor how their devices are impacting their overall well-being.
Lindsey Nolen is a staff writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.