Neck pain and your cell phone
Neck pain caused by cell phone usage is becoming increasingly more common. So common in fact, that it’s been given a name in popular media: text neck. Before you roll your eyes, think about it. Picture yourself texting, reading your favorite blog, getting directions on your phone… in fact doing just about anything other than talking on your phone. What do you look like? Is your head bent forward? How much time do you spend in that position? How many times a day? A week? A year? Just to give you an idea, the average person spends 2 to 4 hours a day in this position while using their phone and tablets. Let that sink in. I hope you’re using some of that time to brush up on global current events and you’re not spending it all reading your cat-obsessed friend’s status updates on Facebook (“This picture of Fluffy is so great because it really captures her personality. I especially like the way her collar is just off to the side… she’s such a ham!”).
The effects of cell phone use on your neck
Well, really it’s the effect of poor posture but you get the point. To understand the effects of this on your body, there are a few things you have to know first. To start, the average human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. So that’s 10 to 12 pounds that your muscles, ligaments and tendons have to hold up and 10 to 12 pounds of pressure on the front end of your spinal discs over 2-4 hours a day. But wait, there’s more. It’s not that simple because of… well… physics. Basically (there’s a detailed version here), your head and neck are a lever system. Your head sits atop the cervical spine (neck bones) which effectively makes your spine a fulcrum (think seesaw). As your head moves forward it increases the distance from this fulcrum. Increased distance means greater load and greater load means greater effort to hold that load. So what does all this mean? A 10 lb head that is tilted about 3 inches forward would require and an extra 30 lbs of effort from your muscles, ligaments and tendons to hold you up. It sounds like a lot but 3 inches of forward head movement isn’t uncommon. 2 inches to 3 inches is about as common as you get, that’s an extra 20 lbs to 30 lbs of effort. That’s like walking around with a small child on your head just to give you some perspective.
The strain that this places on your joints and tissues causes many aches and pains. Symptoms like upper back and neck pain as well as headaches are common. This pain can range from tightness to dull ache and all the way up to sharp stabbing sensations. The extra weight can cause your shoulders to round forward resulting in tightness and muscles spasms. One of the more severe (but not uncommon) possibilities is pinched nerves. This can be caused by a few scenarios in this situation with bulging or herniated cervical discs being one example. When a cervical nerve is pinched it is often experienced as radiating pain downward into the arm and hand. Long term forward head posture (or “Text Neck” as some are calling it) can lead to early degeneration and spinal arthritis.
5 things you can do about text neck
- First things first, postural awareness can be hugely helpful. Avoid prolonged activities where you feel your head is bent forward. Cell phones and tablets are part of this problem but if you take the time to notice, you might feel it while you’re driving or watching TV too.
- Make sure you take breaks from your technology. If you’re in an environment where your can get up and walk around every 20-30 minutes, do it. Otherwise, find a time frame that works for you but know, the more the better.
- When using your phone or tablet, raise it up. Don’t make your neck do all the work, raise that device up to give your body a break.
- If you have a lot of work to do, use your desktop computer. If it’s set up right, it will be a lot better than your mobile device. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to take breaks, it just makes it better.
- Stretching (there’s some neck stretching examples in a video at the bottom of the article) and exercise are great ways to combat the daily physical stress we put on our bodies. A qualified professional (like a doctor of chiropractic, physical therapist, certified fitness trainer, etc) can help you create a stretching and exercise plan that is specific to your needs and daily stresses.
For those of you who need some help or just want to really get on top of it there is plenty of help available. A chiropractor can help you put together an individualized stretching and exercise plan as well as provide manual therapies and adjustments to help move the joints in the right direction and relax tight muscles. Physical therapists and fitness trainers can certainly help you put together an exercise routine. Last, but certainly not least, massage therapists will help you relax the tight muscles that have been working so hard to hold that noggin of your’s upright.
Whether you decide to do it on your own or get some help, the important thing is that you just get started.
By: Phillip Gamble, DC
Doctor of Chiropractic
White Oak Family Wellness
405 Illinois Avenue #2b
St. Charles, IL 60174