Are you suffering from neck pain? You may be reading a hard copy of this article, but then again it’s possible you’re reading this on your smartphone. Given the increasing popularity of hand-held devices, it’s no surprise that neck pain is becoming more common. “Text-neck” is actually a diagnostic term that many medical doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors are using. The term refers to the process of repetitive stress being placed on the cervical spine (neck) as a result of a prolonged forward-head posture. Because of the overuse of smartphones, computers, and texting, people are looking down for longer and longer periods of time. Eventually, this causes the head to jut, or protrude forward, increasing the weight and load placed on the vertebrae/joints of the cervical spine. If this posture is assumed regularly and for prolonged periods of time without intervention, it can result in straightening or reversal of the natural curvature in the neck.
Some readers might say, “Doc, my neck doesn’t hurt from staring at my phone, it hurts from staring at my computer all day.” Right. The same is true for routine computer use. With prolonged sitting at a computer for eight-plus hours each day, the head and neck come forward as well as the shoulders. Consequently, the muscles of the neck and upper back become over stretched while the muscles of the chest are shortened and tightened. Ideally, the head should be in line with the neck, directly over the shoulders, ensuring that the neck distributes the weight of the head evenly.
For example, visualize holding a bowling ball with two hands against your body. Now picture holding that same bowling ball with your arms straight out in front of your body. Which is more difficult? Holding the bowling ball straight out in front of you is much more difficult than keeping it close due to the torque generated by the increased distance. For every inch that the head is ahead of the shoulders, the weight of the head on the spine is increased by an additional 10 pounds. When your head is in front of your neck and shoulders, the muscles of the neck and upper back have to compensate, which is one of the most widespread causes of neck, shoulder, and upper back pain.
Here are some tips anyone can practice to alleviate and possibly even prevent “text neck.”
Limit your usage and time spent assuming poor posture. Give yourself some time away from your computer, desk, or phone, and your neck will thank you! Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; it will be there when you return. At the very least, hold your phone up at eye level rather than in your lap. The rule of thumb is that the bottom of your monitor/screen should be at eye level. So raise your phone or monitor. It might also be a good idea to see if a standing desk is a possibility at work. Not only will your neck thank you, but your shoulders and mid-back will, too.
Take a break. If your job requires you to use your phone and computer, then it probably isn’t possible to limit your usage very much. But you can take a break. For every hour you’re at your desk, take a one- to two-minute break to practice and reinforce proper posture. Try Bruegger’s exercise during each break (see below).
Bruegger’s Exercise. I apologize, but there aren’t any bagels included with this particular application. For this exercise, you want to sit at the edge of your seat comfortably with your legs hip width apart and your feet turned out at a 45-degree angle. You want your palms facing forward, with your arms at your sides, your shoulders drawn back and down slightly. Be sure to sit up in a neutral position with the crown of the head high. Make sure you don’t overextend, or bend backward too much, as to avoid putting too large a curvature in your low back. Take five to ten deep breaths, making sure to fill the abdomen as you do so, avoiding any chest breathing. Repeat as needed – recommended, one to two minutes for each hour of sitting. For a visual demonstration of this exercise online, search “Bruegger’s Posture sitting” on You Tube.
There are other simple exercises designed to relieve and even prevent text neck, such as neck stretches and the use of a cervical roll or towel roll at the base of the neck. Ask your healthcare provider about these.
As always, be sure to consult with a professional (chiropractor, physical therapist, medical doctor) before beginning an exercise regimen. Once you decide on the right regimen, it may take some persistence, especially if your pain is chronic (long-term) in duration. But stick with it, and be sure to stay properly hydrated, as well, for optimal results.
Get Adjusted. After low back pain and just before headaches, neck pain is the second most common reason people see a chiropractor. Chiropractic adjustments will help to naturally restore normal joint function, range of motion, and reduce/eliminate muscular tension.
Michael “Dr. Mike” Roney, D.C., is a musculoskeletal specialist who recently joined Pawling Family Chiropractic, located in the Atrium on Route 22. He can be reached at (845) 855-1475, FellaWellness.com online, or by email at DrMike@FellaWellness.com.