With today’s mobile devices – smart phones, laptops, and tablet computers, physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors are seeing a dramatic increase in musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper back. The term “text neck” was coined in 2008 to describe the nerve pain and headaches associated with prolonged use of these electronic gadgets. As a telling statistic, according to Cisco’s Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, the average amount of data used on a smart phone tripled from 2010 to 2011.
The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds when held upright in the neutral position. The forces on the cervical spine increase significantly when tilting the head forward. For example, holding a smart phone at mid-torso height creates 20-30 pounds of force on the supporting neck. Maintaining a forward head posture can lead to pinched nerves, muscle strain, and disc damage. Over time, the natural inward curve of the cervical spine can flatten with a loss of elasticity causing even more problems. Additionally, prolonged forward head posture can contribute to cardiovascular disease from reduced lung capacity (shortness of breath) as well as gastrointestinal problems from increased pressure on organs.
Obviously, our mobile computing and communication technology isn’t going away so how does one avoid the detrimental effects of “text neck” disorder?
- Physical therapists advise taking frequent breaks (every 20 minutes) while using mobile devices. These micro-breaks should involve rolling the shoulders, stretching the neck’s primary flexor muscles (sternocleidomastoids) by extending the head back, and taking a short, brisk walk to stimulate increased blood flow.
- For tablet and laptop use, add an external mouse, keyboard, and raise the device on a stand or stack of books.
- Communicate verbally using the phone for its intended purpose rather than trading messages by texting or email.
- There’s even a mobile app called the Text Neck Indicator, created by the Text Neck Institute, which signals a green light when the phone is held at an acceptable viewing angle and a red light, conversely. For more information click on The Text Neck Institute.
So take a tip from the title of the 1972 hit song by Argent and “Hold Your Head Up”.