By: Jules Hannah, DPT

So the correct term is text neck; but I just couldn’t resist coming out with the new phrase to annoy my boyfriend. Words like “chillaxing”, “staycation”, and “life hack” drive him up a wall; figuratively. I bring this up, because I am a self-certified posture police. Many of my patients come to me with increased headaches, stiff neck muscles and difficulty sleeping. Upon taking their past medical history, I discover that many of them spend copious amounts of time on their computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. I find myself educating about posture to my patients, how to fix it, how to prevent further injury and such. Preventative bad posture is what drives me up a wall; figuratively.

What is text neck?

Text neck is the term used to describe the injuries and pain sustained from looking down at wireless devices for too long. The symptoms associated with text neck are:

  • chronic headaches
  • upper back pain
  • shoulder pain
  • neck pain
  • increased curvature of the spine

Some studies suggest, text neck may lead to the early onset of arthritis and the potential for decreased lung capacity. Of course, text neck does not occur only from texting. For years, we’ve all looked down to read. The problem with texting is that it adds one more activity that causes us to look down more than in the past. This is especially concerning because young, growing children could possibly cause permanent damage to their spines as they grow.

As you type out an email to a colleague, answer your boss’ latest urgent request or twittering what you had for lunch; you’re holding your neck at an unnatural angle. And it stays there for much longer than it should, causing muscle strain and pain.

Handheld device users also tend to hunch their shoulders forward. The oddly angled neck and rounded shoulders strains the entire upper body.

Add general work/school stress to the poor posture, and handheld device addicts can feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

So what can you do?

  • Look up from the screen every 5 minutes or so.
  • Better yet, bring the smartphone up to eye level. Ok, you won’t look that cool, but at least you won’t be in pain.
  • Do some easy neck stretches and exercises (see below for 4 stretches).

Neck Stretch #1: Chin Tuck

Move your chin towards your chest, holding for 5 seconds as you feel a comfortable stretch from your neck to the base of your skull.

Repeat 10 times.

Neck Stretch #2: Side Bending

Tilt your head to the right, bringing your ear close to the shoulder. You may use your hand to pull your head farther into the stretch. Hold 20 seconds.

Bring your head back to the center, and then tilt it to the left, again holding 20 seconds.

Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

Neck Stretch #3: Side-to-Side Head Rotation

Rotate your chin towards your right shoulder. Hold 20 seconds. You may use your hand to push your head farther into the stretch.

Bring your head back to the center, and then rotate it to the left, again holding 20 seconds.

Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

Prone Neck Extension

Lie face down on the floor, arms by your side. Lock the shoulder blades back and down. Extend your head up to look at the ceiling (diagonally forward, not straight up), and then lift your shoulders, then your chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds then very deliberately lower the chest, then the shoulders, then the head. Repeat this motion for a set of 10.

Ditch the Smartphone Sometimes: It Could Help Your Neck

Neck pain isn’t a status symbol. Never letting go of your smartphone doesn’t make you a better worker/student/friend. Take care of and listen to your body, and do what you can to avoid neck pain, even if it means disconnecting from a constantly connected high-tech world. And of course, if you need help obtaining posture education, manual therapy to decrease cervical spine muscle tightness and further education for stretching; Superior Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab is here to help!