Not Sure You’ve Got Text Neck?
The short answer: if you have a phone is most likely, a resounding yes!!! Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, the so called “Text Neck” phenomenon was mostly seen in office workers, who spent most of their time in front of the computer!
This was without knowing what we know today about office and desk ergonomics, and the more Jedi defying invention of the sit-stand desks, don’t have one? GET ONE!!
However, now we are seeing “Text Neck” in a lot more people that sit outside that working type of environment. Very young children are finding they’re developing Text Neck, as they spend more and more time watching continuous YouTube videos, playing video games, and texting all on smartphones, and tablet devices!
You may have seen this on the Channel 10 News last week discussing exactly this!
Now the slightly longer answer: “Text Neck” occurs when the head is held forward and down for too long – have a look around, there is bound to be a “Text Neck” in action to the left or right of you??! You may even be lucky enough to catch a big one, with someone’s chin actually touching their chest bone!!! This posturing adds excessive amounts of tension to the muscles of the neck and shoulders, with further pressure moving onto the joints and discs within the seven bones of the neck and skull. This is very concerning when we take a think about a growing child’s neck and spine – if Text Neck is left unchecked in anyone, it will lead to inflammation of muscles, ligaments, nerve irritation, headaches, and eventually osteoarthritis!! Aesthetically, it will also make the lower neck vertebrae stick out more, creating that unsightly humpback!!
What are the symptoms of Text Neck??
No Symptoms – sometimes, in the early stages people don’t know they even have it!! But take a look at your posture from the side profile, if your ear is not on top of your shoulders??? Then “Text Neck” is most likely on its way! We pride ourselves, and actively encourage people to be proactive in finding and improving Text Neck before symptoms arise, thus preventing the damage, pain and disability. Often people are surprised when we show them their side view postural analysis, and demonstrate just how far forward the head has travelled from its neutral and normal position.
If your head weighs 5kg, and your head moves ONLY 4cm forward, the muscles and joints of your neck are holding an additional 9kg of weight, that’s HAVING A BABY ON YOUR HEAD!!! NO WONDER AFTER MONTHS/YEARS THE MUSCLES AND JOINTS ARE SCREAMING OUT, RIGHT?!!!
Stiffness – the neck can feel quite stiff when moving it. The normal neck range should be a total of 1800 rotation, that is 900 to the left, and 900 to the right! When the neck is restricted as it is in Text Neck, additional movement has to come from the upper back and lower back – think about this the next time you’re in a car, reversing, or performing a head check, just how much is your neck actually moving? And how much is the rest of your spine compensating and working harder to accommodate your neck restriction? This is a potential mechanism for how neck issues, can influence lower back issues! And this is why Chiropractors will often be interested in the history, and assessment of the whole body, not just where a pain is!
Tight Muscles – the muscles of the neck and shoulders may feel constantly tight, and with a nagging need to stretch or squeeze or even punch them! This often, but not always, starts okay in the morning, and then tends to develop more intensely as the day progresses, coinciding with the more texting, and tablet use we do! The tightness is due to the extra load they are holding up. Think about holding a bowling ball, how long could you hold it with your arms outstretched for without suffering muscle pains? Now compare that to holding it tucked in nice and close to your body?? Same thing with our bowling ball on our neck, we want that tucking in nice and close!
Pain – there may be dull, achy types of pain through the joints and muscles of the neck, and shoulders in the early stages. As time passes, and inflammation and pressure builds, osteoarthritis, or wear and tear arthritis will develop, which can lead to nerve pressure. This often presents itself with more of an electric, sharp, or burning kind of a pain, often referring down into the hands and arms, possibly also associated with pins and needles, or numbness too. (A side note on Osteoarthritis, this kind of arthritis is not hereditary in the slightest, just because your parents have it, doesn’t mean you are destined to suffer the same fate – but that is a whole other blog post to be done at a later date).
Headache – a consistent dull pain in the back of the head, or often referring through the temples into or above the eyes. This is what is called a cervicogenic headache – or in more simple terms, headaches arising from the muscles and joints of the neck. Why does your head hurt, when it’s your neck and shoulders that are under the pressure?? For the simple reason that sensory input from your neck and shoulders converge onto the “head-and-face nerve”, OR….. in more complicated terms, they converge onto the Trigeminal Spinal Nucleus – you can read about that detail here! This has been confirmed by injecting anaesthesia into these nerves, effectively blocking the relay, and eliminating the headache temporarily.
It also frequently gets confirmed in our offices too, not by injecting anaesthetics, but by helping the spine reach a more neutral posture, thus removing pressure that Text Neck is adding, reducing the painful input into the “head-and-face nerve” relay, and thereby reducing how often the headaches are arising, and the intensity of the headache when or if it does arise!
What can Chiropractors do about a Text Neck?
We have seen these symptoms and postures increase in frequency over the last decade or so, and often have great success in educating, treating and managing it.
We take our time in discussing what, and where is bothering you so that we can understand fully the issues at hand, and what could be exacerbating them. What to expect when you first see Chiropractor can be found here. If we can comprehend that, then often some simple little hints and tips along the way can minimise the stress and loading.
We will take a photograph on a tablet device – ironically enough – so that you can see for yourself to what extent your, or your children’s posture deviates from normal. This can then be calculated into what the additional load is, so you can get a numerical figure on how much extra load the neck and shoulders are carrying. Ideally, this is retaken after a period of treatment, in order to provide evidence that what we and you are doing is actually providing positive results and improvements in your posture!!
Occasionally, x-rays will be required to evaluate the condition of the spinal joints, remembering that long term Text Neck postures, will eventually lead to early osteoarthritis! Finding out the extent of which is important when providing and directing what is the best treatment options for you and your loved ones. Obviously, x-rays are a very rarely required when dealing with Children, and in pregnant or nursing mothers.
In terms of provided hands-on therapy, if there is a painful Text Neck (remembering that in the early stages, there often will be no pain at all), that is our first priority, trying to get you feeling better faster. This is generally done by soft tissue massage therapy to the tight muscles, stretching them, and providing gentle stretches into the restricted joints of the neck or spine helping to increase movement. Weakened muscles are made stronger with good facilitation techniques, which aid in supporting an improved posture. Obviously longer term strengthening and exercise stretches are also provided to gain additional strength and support!
And of course, YOU!! We unfortunately don’t have any magic, we can only show you path young Jedis, it is YOU that needs to be able to walk the path!
So, what can YOU do about a Text Neck?
Previously, it usually wouldn’t take much to educate someone on re-arranging their desk setup at work, to minimise the 8-hour Text-Neck shift in front of the computer. However, just providing that education now is failing, as there are the additional 16 hours a day where people are looking down, texting, playing games, watching Netflix all on tablet based devices resting flat in their laps as they sit on trams/trains/couches, or often in bed!
Simple things you can do to help prevent this type of posturing, is to simply hold your device up to eye level when using it. Or better still, try minimise using it at all!! If you’re on a computer, you can have iMessages setup to be able to send and receive to and from the computer screen/keyboard, rather than the phone down in your lap!
With younger children, if they’re going to be playing on the tablet or smart phone for an extended period, you can politely negotiate with them the time they spend playing on the device, with their posture that they’re going to provide!! For example, slumping in a couch? 10 minutes! Holding device up high in front of the face, 20 minutes!! Laying on their back, holding device up to the ceiling, 30 minutes!!! OR BETTER STILL, want an hour??
Offer them to lay on their stomach – this helps to lift the head up, while also providing excellent strengthening through the postural muscles of the upper back, great for infants, and young children alike! Extensor tone (or back strength) is so very important in a developing child’s spine/posture and something I’m most passionate about, their developing brain – again the detail on this is flagged for another post in the future!
So, please keep an eye out on yourself and loved ones while texting no matter what position.
Dr. Kenneth Taylor