Chances are you’re reading this on a cell phone or other mobile device. Believe it or not, your cell phone could actually be causing you pain and discomfort. Almost unheard of a few years ago, “text neck” is an injury caused by repetitive neck strain. It’s becoming more common as more people look down at their smartphones.
“Text neck is something I see all the time," said Dr. Darius Greenbacher, director, Sports and Exercise Medicine, Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “Text neck can affect everyone but it’s a big issue with teens,” he added.
What causes “text neck?”
Nowadays, it seems like we are on our phones 24/7. It’s that repetitive behavior of constantly looking down at your phone or tablet for long periods of time that causes text neck to occur.
“As more time is spent looking down, the neck starts to pull forward and the shoulders begin to round out. This leaves the patients with this bad forward posture that can eventually lead to pain,” said Greenbacher. "This forward posture has been an issue for a long time, effecting people working on computers and at their desks. However, increased smartphone usage is leading to more and more cases of text neck,” he added.
What happens is the neck and upper shoulder muscles get overworked and this causes the back of the neck to get stretch out and the front of the body to become very tight. When this area starts to get rolled in toward the front it really puts a lot of stress on the shoulder blades and the neck. This excessive pressure can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and chest.
“Most of the time people will complain of upper back and neck issues. Sometimes the shoulders will hurt,” said Greenbacher. “As the posture gets worst, patients start to have the effects carry over into the rest of their life even when we’re not using our phones,” he added.
Will it cause permanent damage?
Athletes often develop similar issues when the front of their body pulls their shoulders and neck forward. If you take these common athletic misalignments and add this constant looking down and pulling forward, it can really cause some serious issues. Luckily, if they’re caught early these issues are only short term.
“Even if people have been dealing with these problems for years, we are able to get people feeling better,” said Greenbacher. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but through hard, focused work with a good team of doctors and physical therapists, we can almost always get patients back to where they want to be.”
Do I have text neck?
There is a quick way to see if you have an issue with forward posture caused by text neck. Stand in a nice relaxing position and take a look at your thumbs. If your thumbs point in toward your body, that means that you have an internal rotation or forward position of your shoulders and neck. If your thumbs are pointed forward, that means your chest is more open and you’re in a proper position and alignment.
Stretches to prevent text neck
There are some helpful stretches that you can do at home to help loosen up the muscles in the neck and back, and prevent text neck.
“The best thing to do is take a tennis or lacrosse ball and put it against the wall and lean back against it. This is a great way to give yourself a nice massage. It will also help to loosen up the muscle around the shoulder and up the neck,” said Greenbacher. “Another method that works is taking a towel and rolling it into a log shape. Then, lay down on the towel so that it goes along your spine. Be sure your head is supported and extend your arm out to the sides, allowing your chest to stretch and open up and just relax there for a while."
He added, “This will not only open up the chest and shoulder, it will also help alleviate a lot of those aches and pains caused by that forward position caused from looking down at your phone.”
Be proactive about your posture
“It’s important to pay attention to how much you’re on your devices and really try to be sure that you’re taking breaks to look up, open up, and bring your shoulders down,” said Greenbacher.
If you are having pain in the neck and back, and the at-home test indicates that you could have a problem with posture, talk to your medical provider about physical therapy.
“Ultimately staying healthy is about keeping the proper alignment,” said Greenbacher. “While it can be a drag to remind your child about their posture, it’s important for you and your family to think about posture. That’s not just for kids, but adults too."