Text Neck and How to Treat It

Modern spine issues are seen in epidemic proportions in chiropractic, medical doctor, pain management, and physical therapy offices every day. Looking down at handheld devices is taking a grave toll on the spine health of adults and children. Historically, looking down was done primarily for reading, but reading was generally a small portion of the day in conjunction with many other types of body movements within the day. Now, technology devices are in people’s hands all day long. Not only is the frequency of looking down increased, but the length of time spent is higher. Research on device usage has found that 79% of people ages 18-44 have only 2 waking hours without a device in their hand. The level of day in and day out use of devices takes a serious toll on spine health and threatens to even prevent normal spine development in children who are on devices too frequently. Text neck is the cause of neck, upper back, and shoulder pain for many, many adults, but can develop lifelong neck pain in children.

What is “text neck”?

Text neck is the term used for the overuse syndrome or repetitive stress injury caused by frequent and prolonged looking down at your phone, tablet, or laptop computer. Yes, this is a really a “thing.” Not only is it a thing, but it is causing millions of people’s neck and upper back pain. When the head is tilted down too frequently for too long, the head pushes forward over the line of the shoulders and in time causes the head to naturally protrude forward. The pressure this forward extension puts on the neck has been found to increase 10 lb per inch the neck is pushed forward. Proper spine alignment puts 10-12 lbs of pressure on the neck. It is not uncommon to find forward head positions of 3-6 inches forward over the balanced, naturally occuring position. This can add 30-60 lbs of pressure to the neck muscles, joints, and bones. Consider carrying a 3-8 year old child (30-60lb on average) on your neck. Now does it make more sense how “text neck” can cause pain, tightness, decreased range of motion, and eventually damage to the neck and spine?

Signs and Symptoms of Text Neck

  • Instant upper back or neck pain when using a handheld device

  • Nagging or sharp pain in the neck or shoulders at the end of the day

  • General shoulder pain and tightness.

  • Intermittent or constant headache made worse when looking down or using the computer

These signs and symptoms may seem like minor things that everyone experiences which at some level is quite true. Everyone is experiencing this because of the widespread overuse of devices, but just because it is common does not mean it is normal or not harmful.

Effects of Text Neck on the Body

  • Upper back, neck, shoulder pain

  • Diminished nerve signaling to the rest of the body

  • Overcompensation for pain that injures other parts of the body

  • Long Term changes in spine curvature

  • Increased risk of early-onset arthritis

  • Diminished immune, metabolic, and cognitive function

Let’s talk a bit about that last effect as it may not seem as obvious as the others. Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient for brain research shows in his work that “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.” When you have a forward head posture, the body has to work harder to achieve nerve signaling through the spine. The body will use energy usually directed to metabolizing/digesting food, immune function, and thinking to compensate for the abnormal posture. How your body relates to gravity, space, and nerve processing are actually functions that require nerve and brain energy even though it is all automatic and subconscious. This is one reason people who keep their spine aligned with chiropractic care experience mental clarity and reduced brain fog.

Treating Text Neck

Treatment for this modern spine stress injury is a combination of correcting the forward head posture and preventing it from recurring. Chiropractic doctors with an experienced rehab team are the very best suited to this task. LifeWorks Integrative Health combines corrective care with preventative care to save your neck, upper spine, and shoulder from pain and long-term damage.

Treatment will aim to do these three things:

  1. Reduce pain

  2. Increase range of motion and strength

  3. Prevent recurrence

Our team does a comprehensive assessment to determine which areas of your spine, neck, posture, etc. need to be corrected and used in-office visits and home exercises that we teach you to do. When pain is severe and/or acute we have a variety of options for drug-free pain management. Keep in mind children are at very high risk for long-term spine damage by overuse of technology in the wrong body positions. We encourage parents to teach,  moderate, and communicate about the effects of technology and use chiropractic care for the prevention of spine issues. If your child or teenager complains of neck/shoulder tightness and pain, do not wait to begin corrective chiropractic care to keep their spine, brain, and nerve signaling in the most optimal state.