The allure of modern gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are undeniable as they help us in numerous ways and are also a great source of entertainment. However, improper or overuse of these gadgets can cause a lot of problems including the popular musculoskeletal disorder called ‘text neck’. It is a common problem suffered by the people of this decade especially the younger generation.
Text neck is a spinal musculoskeletal disorder characterized by a hunched upper back, pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back regions with occasional headaches. If not treated early, it can lead to more severe disorders affecting the bones, nerves, ligaments, and muscles of the neck.
Text neck is caused when the muscles down the back of your neck are overworked due to excessive weight and pressure put on them. A typical adult human head weighs about 5 kg. However, the strain on your neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments increases when you tilt your head to look at the screen of a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other such gadgets. When your head is tilted at an angle of 45-60 degrees, the weight becomes equivalent to 25-30 kgs. It is not possible for your neck to support the additional pressure for an extended period of time, resulting in the symptoms of text neck.
Aside from people who are obsessed with their mobiles, text neck is fairly common in groups of professionals who have to hunch to work. This includes surgeons, dentists, nurses, chefs, hairdressers, teachers, students, etc. Also, people with rheumatoid conditions like ankylosing spondylitis, connective tissue disorders like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s Diseases experience neck problems due to excessive kyphosis.
In the early days, the symptoms of the text neck would be mild in the form of stiffness around the neck region. However, long term strain on the neck muscles can result in more complicated symptoms. The most common symptoms of text neck are listed below:
1. A hunched posture - Due to the excessive strain when looking down, the muscles and ligaments around your neck, upper back, and shoulders can become imbalanced and deconditioned. This results in a hunched posture and makes it very difficult to maintain a good posture without conscious effort.
2. Pain in neck, shoulder, and upper back - A characteristic symptom of text neck is a dull or intense stabbing pain on a specific spot or spread over the back region of the neck.
3. Headache - Constant soreness, stiffness, and sub-occipital muscle tightness can cause the muscles at the base of the neck to spasm, causing intense pain and headaches.
4. Pain due to neck flexion - The pain associated with the text neck becomes worse when you move your head downward or in a direction that causes you more discomfort.
5. Muscular weakness - The muscles around your neck, shoulders, and upper back can weaken gradually due to the radiating pain. Specifically, the rhomboids, trapezius, and external rotators can experience severe discomfort.
Less common symptoms that can develop if text neck is not managed properly or left untreated for a long time:
1. Jaw pain - You can experience temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain or jaw pain if the cervical spine gets misaligned due to an imbalance of muscles.
2. Cervical radiculopathy - Text neck can accelerate degenerative disc diseases or osteoarthritis by irritating or compressing the cervical nerve root. This is known as cervical radiculopathy and can result in pins-and-needles tingling sensation, electric shock-like pain, or numbness around your neck and shoulder region.
3. Extreme posture imbalance - Long term hunched posture or forward placement of head causes muscle imbalance around the neck and torso. This can cause the center of gravity of your body to shift forward, resulting in balance issues.
1. Always maintain good posture - Text neck is caused due to bad posture. Thus, if you are conscious of your posture throughout the day, you can prevent text neck or slowly improve the condition if you already suffer from it. It is also necessary to maintain a good posture while sleeping. To do that you have to adopt a good sleeping position and sleep on a good mattress. You can download Posture Apps that track your posture and provide real-time feedback by analyzing the tilt angle of your mobile.
A good method to avoid neck flexion is to set your monitor at your eye level or raise your mobile when using it to bring it closer to your eye level. You may also invest in a standing desk or a chair with a headrest.
2. Avoid excessive usage of gadgets like smartphones and laptops - Nowadays, almost everybody spends 5-6 hours daily with a smartphone, laptop, or PC when not sleeping. This habit is so ingrained in our lifestyle that it is difficult to change it. So, a better solution to take breaks and space out your usage sessions of the devices. You can use an activity tracker to keep track of your usage goals and prevent text neck.
3. Practice stretching exercises - Stretching your neck and back muscles periodically throughout the day is a healthy way to strengthen these muscles and relieve muscle soreness and fatigue. You can also practice yoga to gain additional health benefits apart from keeping your spine healthy.
4. Stay hydrated all the time - The discs in your spinal cord is composed of a large amount of water. When the spinal fluid dries, it can cause pain and additional problems. So, remember to drink plenty of water daily to keep yourself well-hydrated.
In severe cases, text neck is usually treated with a combination of physical therapy, massage, muscle strengthening exercises, stretching exercises, yoga, Alexander technique, and NSAIDs and pain relief medications. Additionally, patients have to follow ergonomic approaches to using tools, equipment, or devices. In extreme cases which result in severe structural problems due to other conditions, surgery may have to be performed.
However, a wide range of people only suffers from moderate pain and symptoms that can be fixed easily at home through stretching exercises and utilizing the tips to prevent text neck. Although, if the symptoms don’t subside after a few weeks of practicing stretching exercises or maintaining good posture and habits, it could imply an underlying problem, in which case it is important to consult with a doctor.
Incorporating a few stretching exercises in your daily routine can help you strengthen the muscles around your neck and the surrounding region. As a result, you will lower the risk of becoming a victim of text neck or heal any damage sooner if you already suffer from it.
1. Chin tuck - Practicing chin tucks allow you to build spinal awareness while improving the strength of your neck muscles. To do it, sit straight in a chair while keeping your chin parallel to the floor. Now, slowly try to draw your head and chin back without tilting your head in any direction. You should feel a stretch on your back neck muscles if you are doing it correctly.
2. Exaggerated nod - It is one of the best exercises to counterbalance the forward/downward head position and increase your neck mobility as it utilizes the motion of pulling your shoulders down and back.
To do this exercise, comfortably sit or stand with your shoulders relaxed, mouth closed, and look up to the ceiling. Then, relax your jaw and open your mouth. Next, try to bring your head further a bit and keep it there. Finally, try to close your mouth again until you feel a stretch in the front neck muscles.
3. Bow pose - This stretching exercise allows you to open your shoulders from the front and counteract slouched posture by strengthening them from the back. To practice the bow pose, lie flat on your stomach and rest your hand on your sides. Make sure your chin is on the floor. Next, bend your knees and try to grab onto your outer ankles with your hands by reaching backward. Then, lift your heels up while inhaling to lift your upper torso, thighs, and chest up off the mat. After that, draw your shoulders away from your ears and look forward. Try to lift your heels higher to intensify the stretch. Make sure your tailbone is pressed into the mat.
Maintain this position for 10 breaths. Then, slowly lower your thighs while exhaling and take a rest of a few minutes.
You have to maintain a good posture while you sleep because depending on your sleeping position, your spinal cord and neck muscles will experience different amounts of pressure. A good sleeping posture can relieve neck pain or even prevent neck soreness whereas a bad sleeping structure can make the symptoms of text neck even worse. Follow the tips below to maintain a good sleeping posture no matter how you sleep:
1. Back sleepers - Sleeping on your back is a good way to relieve the pressure on your neck as it doesn’t twist and remains at a neutral angle. However, it is important to use thin pillows if you sleep on your back. Otherwise, your head can prop too much and cause neck pain.
2. Side sleepers - Side sleepers should focus on using a thicker pillow and maintaining a straight spinal alignment from the base of their skull to their tailbone when laying on their side. It is also important to not choose a pillow that is excessively thick.
3. Stomach sleepers - People who suffer from text neck should avoid sleeping on their stomachs. Sleeping on your stomach can cause cervical pain as you hyperextend your muscles when you turn your head to the side. You put a strain on your neck muscles even if you look up to breathe. The best solution for stomach sleepers is to use a mattress specifically created for sleeping on your belly or not use a pillow at all.
In general, it is crucial to sleep on a pillow that is neither too soft or firm and neither too high or low. Otherwise, it can be the sole reason for neck pain which you can confuse with text neck. On the other hand, using comfortable pillows can help you relieve neck pain.
Aside from your pillows, the type of mattress you sleep on can have a significant effect on the symptoms of text neck. The mattress you sleep on should complement your sleeping posture to provide you the best benefits. Typically, memory foam mattresses are the most suitable for side sleepers as these keep your spine in perfect alignment. Latex foam mattresses also contour well to the shape of your body while sleeping on your side or back. Stomach sleepers would benefit from sleeping on innerspring beds
The best back support mattress and products from the best orthopedic mattress brands can also help you to relieve the pressure on your spinal cord and around your neck region. If your mattress is older than 7 years or if you feel the symptoms of your text neck becoming worse after you wake up in the morning, it can be a good idea to start sleeping on your back or replace your old mattress.
Teenagers are very susceptible to text neck as they spend a lot of time looking down at their smartphones or staring at the screen of a computer or laptop. Not to mention, the habit of texting frequently or constantly looking at notifications. Parents should pay special attention to their kids who are still teenagers as excessive pressure or bad posture during their growing years can multiply the damage many folds.
If you notice the signs of a text neck, it is important to recognize your bad habits to prevent further damage. At the very least, you should practice stretching exercises, maintain a good posture, and sleep on a suitable mattress to relieve the stress on your neck muscles and spinal cord. KingKoil is one of the best mattress company and is associated with the International Chiropractors Association (ICA). Our range of products provides support and spine alignment and is designed to provide pressure relief so that you can sleep well at night and wake up every morning with a smile.