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  • Danielle Labuschagne

“Text Neck” – the cell phone disease

So maybe your phone is not your lifeline after all… It might be the root of all your pain and problems.

What is a “text neck”?

This is a term that is used to describe a new neck pain syndrome. It describes the repetitive stress injury or an overuse injury to the neck joints, ligaments and muscles. It is the result of having your head hung or bent in a forward position for prolonged periods of time, usually while looking at your cell phone or other electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and e-readers.

As a result of the developing technology, people spend much more time looking down at their handheld devices, causing an increase of stress to their cervical spine.

A study was conducted to determine this increased stress on the neck caused by downward looking. It was found that the amount of force exerted on the cervical spine, by the head, increases the more we tilt our heads. This picture shows the results.

Text neck is a big concern with children, because their heads are larger in relation to their body size than adults.

Signs and symptoms of “text neck”

  • Stiff neck – the neck is sore and difficult to move after prolonged time in a forward bent position.

  • Sharp pain – a stabbing or stinging type pain can be felt in the lower neck.

  • General soreness – this is usually in one or more area of the neck and also the shoulder muscles (trapezius).

  • Radiating pain – this can result due to the excessive forward head posture.

  • Pain radiating along a nerve from the neck to the shoulder and arm.

  • Headaches – this can result from an irritation in the neck, affecting the muscles and nerves, causing tension type headaches.

  • Irritability and Agitation – this results as an excessive response to stimuli.

  • Anxiety

  • Loss of concentration

  • Eye strain – sight disturbances due to the strain caused by the electronic screens

  • Insomnia / sleep disturbances

If text neck is left untreated it could lead to more serious permanent damage of the neck, including:

  • Onset of early degeneration (arthritis)

  • Spinal mal-alignment

  • Disc compression and even disc herniation

  • Nerve damage

  • Muscle damage

Treating “text neck”

(no, you don’t have to live in a cave with no WiFi)

In the acute stage the main problems of text neck include muscle spasms, neck pain and stiffness.

  • Take regular breaks – try to limit time periods in front of screens to 30-40 minutes at a time. After your 30-40 min, warm up your neck by doing normal neck movements. Look up and down as far as possible x10, turn your head to the sides x10, bend your head sideways x10.

  • Stretches – in your breaks you could stretch out the muscles that works hard to keep your neck up. These muscles include the neck and shoulder muscles like Trapezius, levator scapula, scalenes and extensors. Stretches held for 30 seconds, 3x.

  • Chin and shoulder blade retraction – pulling the chin and shoulder blades back and holding them back for 20-30 seconds. This helps to strengthen these muscles.

  • Text less and talk more – instead of texting someone, rather phone them. This is much more personal and much better for your neck. A voice note could also be an alternate for texting.

  • Heat – applying heat on tired and stiff muscles helps the muscle to relax better, resulting in less discomfort.

  • Physiotherapy – physiotherapist could definitely help with a text neck:

1. Firstly they will evaluate your posture, the movements of your neck and the tightness of muscles.

2. Mobilisation of the neck joints will help to ease painful joints and to loosen up tight structures around the joint resulting in better movement of the neck joints.

3. Soft Tissue management of tight neck and shoulder muscles. Massages and stretches could be performed to loosen up tight muscles and ease pain.

4. Releasing spasms in muscles will ease pain and improve neck movement.

5. Dry needling of trigger points that might cause radiating pain into the arm or up into the head causing headaches.

6. Teaching stretches

7. Posture and ergonomic re-education and adjustments could be taught.

Put down your phone, give your neck a break and look up – you might see something beautiful out there…

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