How many hours a day do you spend on your phone, on your tablet or at a computer screen? What is your head doing right now? If you’re reading this using your phone, laptop or tablet, chances are you’re hunched over with your head tilted down. Research has found that this position, called ‘text neck’, can lead to bad posture and cause pain in your neck, head, shoulders, spine and even down your arms.
Recent research shows that 79% of 18 – 44 year olds have their mobile phone with them almost all the time – with only 2 hours of their waking day without their phone at hand. Many of us rely on smartphones and tablets to communicate for work and to keep in touch with family and friends throughout the day and we setting ourselves up for a future of pain and discomfort.
So what is text neck and why is it so bad? The average human head weighs around 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). This isn’t a problem when it’s stacked straight over your shoulders, but when we adopt a forward head posture as we update Facebook or read an email, the force on your neck increases hugely the further forward you tilt your head.
One study published by Surgical Technology International looked at how much force the head puts on the spine as the head tilts. If the head is tilted just 15 degrees forward, that puts 27 pounds (12 kg) of forces on the cervical spine and the supporting muscles. The farther the head tilts forward, the more pressure it puts on the spine:
- 30 degrees puts 40 pounds (18 kg) of pressure on the spine
- 45 degrees places 49 pounds (22 kg)
- 60 degrees places 60 pounds (27 kg)
All of that pressure can lead to pain and pulled muscles.
Sammy Margo, from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says she thinks text neck is on the rise. “People carry out their lives by text, they get carried away and don’t realise they need a break.” This can cause “head pain, neck pain, arm pain and numbness,” she points out, because “a normal standing position is facing forward and all the curves of your neck and spine are in correct alignment. But when you drop your chin on to your chest for a long period you are stretching the whole structure. Eventually, in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, it could lead to serious consequences.”
So what can you do to help yourself while still keeping connected?
- Hold your mobile phone at eye level as much as possible. The same holds true for all screens—laptops and tablets should also be positioned so the screen is at eye level and you don’t have to bend your head forward or look down to view it.
- Take frequent breaks from your phone and laptop throughout the day. For example, set a timer or alarm that reminds you to get up and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes.
- Use voice recognition or make phone calls wherever possible
- If you work in an office, make sure your screen is set up so that when you look at it you are looking forward, with your head positioned squarely in line with your shoulders and spine.
- Keep fit and active and build up the strength of your neck with core exercises.
- Stand up straight – good posture, with the shoulders pulled back, keeps the body aligned in a neutral position.
- Try the following stretches to improve blood flow and relieve tension:
- Tuck the chin down toward the neck, then slowly raise it up toward the ceiling.
- Rotate the head so that it is looking out over one shoulder, then turn slowly and rotate in the other direction.
- Looking straight ahead tilt your right ear down to the right shoulder and repeat on the left.
- Rotate the shoulders backwards while holding the arms down by the sides of the body.
- Don’t ignore pain – if you have corrected your posture and you still have pain after a week visit a Physiotherapist for an assessment and treatment which will include self-help exercises and posture advice.
The good news is that with posture correction, some hands on treatment and some exercises most cases of text neck resolve quickly in the hands of an experienced therapist!
Lynne Midwinter is a Chartered Physiotherapist specialising in back and neck pain and headaches who works at Physio & Therapies in Todmorden. You can book an appointment to see a Physiotherapist there by calling 01706 819464.