The term “Text Neck” is starting to be heard more commonly on the news and in medical circles. It refers to neck pain resulting from increased neck flexion or forward head position. This posture is typically held when texting/scrolling on a phone, reading a book in hand, or leaning over a tablet on a table surface. Often times, patients complain of neck pain, but many of them find it hard to believe it could be from phone use.
To accomplish goals and activities, humans have always utilized the ability of the neck to bend forward and backward. One could imagine a person, prior to the electronic era, reading a book or magazine with their head/neck in posture similar to texting/scrolling posture. This is not an entirely new posture, however many patients may not realize the time spent in this position while using a phone/tablet, and the potential role this activity has on their neck pain.
The neck is not meant to be fully bent (where your chin is touching your chest or close to it) for long periods of time. You’ll know this if you’ve slept on a plane or in a car and woken up with temporary pain. While the human head weighs about 10 pounds, it exerts about 50 pounds of pressure on the neck when bent fully forward.
The positional inflammation and stress on the vertebrae, or bones of the spine, puts stress on the facet joints and discs. This is the root cause of the pain and soreness from text neck. While overextending the neck is nothing new , its frequency is increasing and specialists are fully realizing the impact it might have.
Too much time spent looking down at your phone with a bent neck can lead to:
- Your shoulder feeling tight or frozen, possibly with occasional, very painful muscle spasms.
- Upper back pain: either continuous or sharp muscle spasms.
- Radiating pain down your arm and into your hand, from a cervical nerve becoming pinched. This would be diagnosed as cervical radiculopathy.
- Additionally, increased time spent with flexed elbows can place the ulnar nerve at risk of swelling, cause numbness of the pinky finger or ring finger or Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. Numbness from the ulnar nerve generally resolves shortly after straightening the elbow.
- Dull continuous neck pain or activity-based pain associated with neck arthritis. Text neck can accelerate the development of neck arthritis or worsen pain of any underlying arthritis. Prolonged flexed posture makes recovery from pain more difficult.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on text neck. Available research is conflicting in trying to isolate texting alone as a cause of neck pain. It has been shown that using a phone or tablet on a table places the neck in greater flexion, or stress. Using a desktop monitor, or even better, a monitor atop a standing desk, offers much less flexion. In addition, the cumulative, long-term effects are hard to measure and attribute to texting head positioning specifically.
If you are experiencing neck pain with or without pain, numbness or weakness in your arms, you should seek treatment. Ideally, you would go somewhere prepared to offer you multiple options for treatment, both non-surgical and surgical, like OrthoNebraska.
If you have some mild pain, but don’t quite feel you are ready to see a doctor, there are a few things you can do:
- Limit phone time:there is lots of research that shows it’s good for your mental health to disconnect from your device, even if just for 30 minutes. Use the screen time settings in your phone to determine average screen time/day, identify apps/areas where screen time could be reduced and set limits for specific apps.
- Hold your phone higher: whatever you can do to eliminate the chin down posture will help. This will also decrease elbow flexion in the case of cubital tunnel syndrome.
- Stretch a few times each day: tilt your head side-to-side, look over each shoulder, roll your shoulders, and look up to the sky (the opposite of chin down). Visiting a physical therapist at OrthoNebraska is a fantastic way to obtain a home exercise program for neck mobility and strengthening.
Looking for an expert to diagnosis your neck pain? Call (402) 609-3000 to make an appointment with one of our neck specialists.