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Technology Can Be a Pain in the Neck

The neck, or cervical spine, has a tough job. Besides having a number of nerve roots branching off it that control the muscles in your upper body, arms and hands, it has to support your head all day.

The human head weighs about 10 or 11 pounds, but poor posture can double, triple or quadruple the force it exerts on the cervical spine. In general, every inch forward you hold your head out of correct alignment increases the effective weight of the head by 10 pounds

Posture is not something most people think about much, but between computer and smartphone usage, the head often moves forward and the shoulders slump. The result is that your head becomes out of position and your spine out of alignment.

Over time, the muscles stiffen and before you know it, you’ve got a crick in the neck. There’s even a name for it: text neck.

What Is Text Neck?

Because smartphone usage is a relatively new phenomenon, text neck has not been studied extensively. But researchers believe it is fundamentally a posture problem. 

Think about how you hold your phone when you’re looking at it. Chances are, you keep it somewhere around chest height and look down. That puts your head in a forward position, multiplying the weight on the head and putting strain on the muscles and joints of the neck and cervical spine. 

Over time, this forward head position causes the muscles in the neck, upper back and shoulders to tense up. What’s more, the additional strain on the spine can cause problems such as premature disc degeneration and arthritis of the spine. 

Symptoms of Text Neck

Symptoms of text neck can include: 

  • Neck pain 
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Pain and tightness in the upper back or shoulders
  • Tingling, numbness or weakness in a shoulder or arms (which could be indicative of nerve damage caused by poor posture)

What You Can Do About Text Neck

The first step in getting rid of text neck is to use your smartphone less. A 2014 study in Surgical Technology International points out that most adults spend two to four hours a day looking at a smartphone. That translates to 700 to 1,400 hours per year of excess strain on the neck. Adolescents use their phones even more: up to 5,000 hours per year. 

Next, it is important to address your posture.

  • Whether standing or sitting, pull your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Center your head on your spine and do not lean forward.
  • Avoid shoulder slump.
  • When looking at a smartphone, hold it up to eye level so you do not have to look down and compromise your posture. 

If your smartphone use is bothering your neck, shoulders and upper back, exercises to strengthen and stretch the cervical spine and surrounding structures may help. Perform these exercises at least once per day: 

  • Exaggerated nod: Nod your head up and down 10 times. Try to touch your chin to your collarbone on the down, and point your nose straight to the ceiling or sky on the up.
  • Shake your head no: Start with your head looking forward. Turn your entire head to look left, and try to look over your left shoulder. Bring your head back to center and then look to the right. Repeat 10 times. 
  • Head circles: Draw a circle with your chin. Begin by looking down, as in the first exercise, then move your chin toward the right, up, left and down again in a circle. Repeat 10 times, then make 10 more circles in the other direction. 
  • Ear touches: Try to touch your right ear to your right shoulder, then bring your head back to center and try to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. Repeat 10 times.

If exercise and lifestyle and activity modification have not relieved your neck pain after a few weeks, request an appointment at Edison Spine Center. Our spine experts can diagose the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan that works best for you and your circumstances.