Text Neck

Cindy was a young, healthy, 24 year old who was active, eating well, and sleeping eight hours a night. She came to our office for her neck pain after a few months into a new job that required her using her upgraded iPhone all day long. Cindy told us her neck and back were sore and tense. After seeing her doctor and receiving a medical workup that included an X-ray which revealed little — the conclusion was she might have some arthritis in her neck. Cindy was frustrated and concerned; she didn’t like the sound of arthritis in her early 20’s. She left the office anxious and not sure where to turn to next or what to do about her neck and upper back pain. What she didn’t know then, but does know now, is that hers is a common 21st century ailment: Text Neck.

Due to gravity, we have head righting reflexes that are invisible. Text Neck is the result of the interaction of our bodies to gravity with the use of ever-developing and ever-present technology in our world. Phones still require that we hold them somehow. As long as we need to hold our phones, our bodies will find ways to support the weight of our heads up while we use them. As long as our bodies are supporting our heads, they will compromise and overwork relative to gravity to hold our head up (head righting). It does so because of reflexes, which we are not aware of, enter: Text Neck.

The human head weighs about 10-12 pounds. For every inch forward the head sits in front of the body, there is a 3-fold increase in strain and demand on the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and upper back creating muscle overuse and fatigue. This muscle overuse and fatigue will lead to muscle substitution, strain, and over time inflammation, and can escalate to joint degeneration and arthritis. This ripple effect, which is invisible can cause increased strain and dysfunction all the way down the spine and to the hips.

Statistically, the average person spends about 170 minutes per day on their phone. Do the math: as a country we spend 43 days a year on our phones. Holding our phones, means we’re holding our heads several inches out of alignment causing strain on muscles all the way down our bodies. Think about holding a 10 pound weight in your hand for 43 days. Ouch! My arm hurts just thinking about that!

The strain on our muscles is hard to comprehend, especially because our bodies are so adept at functioning even when under immense stress. Human bodies find a way– until they just can’t anymore. That’s when the neck, shoulders, and jaw begin to interpret the strain as dangerous. The brain picks up this signal and alerts the conscious mind, and the body responds with action. The most common action is muscle spasm which serves to protect the surrounding area from moving more and potentially doing more damage to the tissues. Spasm impacts movement and causes pain. This is where a qualified PT who understands how to identify the root cause can help get your tissues moving better and develop a strengthening program to counteract the strain and breakdown of your tissues.

If you or someone you know are suffering from head, jaw, neck, upper back, shoulder, or lower back pain without a known cause — it may be the result of the cumulative microtrauma related to being on your phone for over a month every year. Most people don’t even vacation as often as they are on their phone!

We at NJPTA understand the head righting reflexes to gravity and the jaw relative to neck pain and arthritis. Give us a call to help you learn what you can do to help minimize the pain caused by our ever changing relationship with technology. There is so much we can do every day to avoid getting to this point of pain from texting and checking your e-mail.

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