Text Neck: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Exercise, Lifestyle Changes
What is Text Neck?
The term "Text Neck" was coined by Dr. Dean L. Fishman, who is a US chiropractor. The term Text Neck is used to describe a repetitive stress injury or an overuse syndrome where a person has his/her head hung or flexed in a forward position and is bent down looking at his/her mobile or other electronic device for prolonged periods of time.
In today's world, where the mobile technology has advanced so much, there are more and more people who are spending an increased amount of time on handheld devices, such as smart phones, computer tablets and e-readers. The end result is prolonged flexion of the neck when bent over these electronic devices resulting in a 'text neck.' This condition is a growing health concern and has the potential to affect millions of people all over the world.
Treatment of "Text Neck" comprises of medications, making lifestyle changes and stretching exercises of the neck.
Signs & Symptoms of 'Text Neck'
Looking down at cell phones and other electronic devices causes the neck to be stuck in an unnatural posture with a bent neck for prolonged periods of time leading to problems with neck pain and discomfort.
- This causes tightness or stiffness across the shoulders.
- Patient also experiences soreness in the neck.
- Patient also suffers from chronic headaches.
- Due to frequent forward flexion of the neck, this can lead to changes in the curvature of the cervical spine along with changes in the supporting tendons, ligaments, musculature, and bony segments leading to postural change.
- Patient feels pain in the neck, back, shoulders, arm, hands, fingers, wrists and elbows.
- There is also numbness and tingling felt in the upper extremities.
Causes of 'Text Neck'
All this happens because the more you crane your neck, the more the weight it has to carry leading to the above mentioned problems. According to Dr. Tan Kian Hian, when a person leans his/her head forward and away from its original, neutral position, where the shoulders and ears are in alignment, the more the weight of the head increases and that too dramatically.
If this condition is left untreated, then a 'text neck' can result in inflammation of the neck ligaments, muscles and nerves along with permanent arthritic damage with increase in curvature of the spine. Nowadays, text neck is more common in today's new generation of young adults who constantly crane their necks or are bent over their electronic devices even while doing simple tasks of daily living, such as eating, walking etc.
If Text Neck is left untreated, then it can lead to some serious permanent damage, such as:
- Flattening of the spinal curve.
- Onset of early arthritis.
- Spinal misalignment can be an outcome of text neck.
- Spinal degeneration.
- Disc compression.
- Disc herniation.
- Nerve damage.
- Muscle damage.
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Loss of lung volume capacity.
Lifestyle Changes to Alleviate "Text Neck"
There are some simple lifestyle changes which greatly help in alleviating the muscular pain and discomfort of the "text neck" before the condition worsens. A person can make some simple changes in his/her daily posture and lifestyle to make him/her feel better.
- Taking frequent breaks helps in relieving the stress on the neck and shoulders. As a "text neck" is a repetitive stress injury, it can be easily relieved or prevented by taking frequent breaks from the mobile device, like every 20 minutes or so. You should constantly look up and bring the neck back into its original neutral position.
- Other alternative is to hold the mobile/electronic device higher, so that it is in alignment with the eyes and the stress on the neck muscles is reduced.
- Doing posture-focused exercises, such as Pilates and yoga, which aim in gaining the right posture will reduce the stress on the neck and shoulders. These exercises will increase the awareness of the way the mobile devices are used and should be used.
Treatment for "Text Neck"
- If you do not find relief with the above measures for problems related to text neck, then medical attention should be sought immediately.
- A complete medical examination will be conducted along with other investigations if necessary to find out if there is anything wrong with the neck.
- Medications, such as NSAIDs and muscle relaxants can be prescribed for symptomatic relief.
- Cold laser therapy can also be done.
- Heat therapy also helps in reducing the stiffness, pain and soreness of the neck.
- Gentle massage also helps in alleviating the pain and stiffness of the neck.
- In some cases, there may be severe degeneration, which causes nerve compression in the neck resulting in "nerve pain." Further investigations need to be done and specialized treatment is required.
Stretching Exercises for "Text Neck"
Given below are some stretching exercises which can help in relieving the neck pain from "Text Neck:
Corner Stretch for Relief from Text Neck
This is a basic exercise which helps in stretching not only the neck, but also the chest and shoulder muscles. It is done in a corner of the room.
- Stand about two feet back from the corner with the face turned towards the wall corner.
- Place your feet together.
- Place your forearms on each side of the wall and keep the elbows slightly below the shoulder level.
- Now lean yourself in as much as you can without feeling any pain. A stretch can be felt in front of the chest and shoulders.
- Hold this stretch for around 30 seconds to a minute.
- Repeat a few times around 3 to 5 times in a day.
- These stretching exercises should be done before starting on any strengthening exercises of the neck.
Levator Scapula Stretch for Relief from Text Neck
This stretch for the muscles of the levator scapula helps a great deal in eliminating neck pain. Levator scapula is a muscle, which usually becomes stiff, tight and tender at the point where it gets attached to the shoulder blade. Levator Scapula Stretch can be done when standing or sitting.
- Raise the elbow above the shoulder level on the side which needs to be stretched. This will elongate the muscle.
- Stay in this position and place the elbow against a door jamb. This will help in rotating the outside of the shoulder blade upwards and the inside of the shoulder blade downwards. This will help in lengthening the levator scapula muscle.
- Next, turn the head away from the stretching side and bring the chin downwards. This movement will help in stretching the back side of the neck.
- Next, place the fingers of your other hand on your head and slowly pull your head forwards. This movement slightly increases the stretch.
- Hold this stretch for around 30 seconds to a minute.