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Published on January 27, 2017

Text Neck: Your Social Life Can Be a Real Pain

Over 70 times a day. That’s how many times the average young adult checks their smartphone. And it’s not just millennials who are tied to their phones. People in the United States stare at their smartphone screens for an average of 90 minutes every day. For most of us, our smartphones are the first thing we grab when the alarm sounds in the morning, and it’s never more than an arm’s length away throughout the day.

Anything that we do so frequently has the potential to impact our lives positively or negatively. Unfortunately, the benefit of being always connected is hurting our health – specifically our necks and spines – giving rise to a medical condition called “text neck.”

What Is Text Neck?

“Constantly having your head tilted forward to view a smartphone screen creates tension on the neck and cervical spine,” said Steven Levin, MD, chief of Rehabilitation Medicine at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health. “This can lead to acute and chronic pain, as well as muscle weakness and headaches.”

For every inch your neck tilts forward, the pressure on your spine doubles. The human head weighs about 12 pounds. Tilting your head forward 15 degrees increases the stress on your neck, making the relative weight of your head equivalent to 27 pounds. At a 60-degree tilt, which you might use when you’re really engrossed in texting, that weight increases to 60 pounds. Or, to think of it in another way, the pressure you’re creating by using your smartphone improperly is equivalent to carrying a Golden Retriever around your neck.

The resulting pain can be acute, lasting for a short time until you adjust your position and rest. However, it can also be chronic if the muscles in your neck start to weaken or the muscles of the cervical spine become irritated.

“Anyone who has a preexisting condition of the neck, spine or back should be especially vigilant about maintaining good posture,” said Dr. Levin. “Tilting your neck forward persistently can make arthritis of the neck and disc problems worse.”

If the symptoms become severe enough, text neck could lead to spending time and energy in physical therapy to correct the problem.

How to Prevent Text Neck

It’s unlikely that anyone with a smartphone will suddenly stop using it in an effort to protect their neck, but there are strategies you can put in place to reduce your risk for developing a problem:

  • Keep your phone at eye level: Instead of tilting your neck to see your phone screen, raise your hands to bring it to eye level. This will help you to keep your neck in a neutral position.
  • Take a break: Give yourself time off from your smartphone to rest the muscles in your neck and cervical spine. Several 20-minute breaks throughout the day without your phone will give your neck time to recover.
  • Be aware of other devices: Using other devices improperly, such as your laptop or TV, can compound the problem of text neck. Be mindful of maintaining correct posture throughout the day.

“If your son or daughter is complaining about neck pain or headaches, advise them to take a closer look at how they’re using their phone,” said Dr. Levin. “Lifting your chin just a few inches while texting can protect you from long-term pain and suffering.”

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