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Technology is amazing, and the exponential progress we have made in the last few decades is truly remarkable. The unprecedented levels of convenience and access to information we have today are unquestionably good things. But our increased use of smartphones, tablets, computers, and other pieces of digital technology are causing a very particular kind of injury call text neck, and it’s on the rise.
Millions of people in the world use smartphones for hours a day, whether scrolling through newsfeeds on social networks, watching YouTube videos, or texting friends, bosses, and coworkers. the Lever Research Centre estimates that two-thirds of Australians own mobile devices, and spend 3-5 hours a day on them. At 3-5 hours a day, that’s over a thousand hours a year!
If long-haired and bell-bottomed hippies are the iconography of the 1960s, then the 2010s is surely marked by a figure hunched over a smartphone. So many of us do it! And as a result, instances of “text neck” are on the rise. Headaches, muscle strain, and other injuries associated with bending our necks for long periods of time to look at a screen.
It’s a cute and silly name, but the condition can result in serious issues. As our use of smartphones grows, so should our caution, to keep the smartphone era one of information and socialization, not spinal degradation.
Serious Spinal Symptoms
Our heads are heavy, weighing in at between ten and twelve pounds. When our necks bend forward at an angle, the weight on our spine increases. At fifteen degrees, our heads put 12 kilograms of weight on our spine, and at 60 degrees—a common smartphone-viewing angle—it’s 28 kilograms. That’s the equivalent of carrying an eight-year-old around on your neck for hours every day. No wonder our necks are so sore!
Remember “BlackBerry thumb?” It was a real problem, with patients experiencing thumb and wrist injuries from texting on handheld devices, and some even required surgery. The same smartphone use is now leading to “text neck”, spinal problems caused by poor posture.
Text neck can cause a variety of injuries and symptoms, as mild as headaches and back pain or as serious as pinched nerves and depression. Muscle and joint pain can be experienced in the back, neck, or shoulders, causing spasms and tightness. It can cause headaches as well, and contribute to migraines, blood pressure, and lung capacity. At worst, text neck can require surgery to fix pinched cervical nerves.
Treating Text Neck
The good news is that “text neck” isn’t inevitable, and there’s plenty we can do to avoid it. Posture is everything! Position your body and screens so that you don’t have to rest your chin on your neck to see them. Use your eyes to look down, not your neck and chin. This means that your computer should be placed a comfortable distance away, at a standing desk if possible, with your arms at a 90-degree angle. Avoid slumping, slouching, or craning. Having your laptop and monitors connected to ergonomic arms will help, we have a large selection of ergonomic laptop mounts and screen arms if you’re tired of using the yellow pages to prop up your screen!
Take many breaks throughout the day. If you are already being mindful of your posture, it will be easier to remember to do so. Don’t forget to limit the time spent on screens for the sake of entertainment and leisure, too—text neck doesn’t just come from office work! We also recommend implementing the 20-20-20 rule to give your eyes a break!
Exercising the muscles involved in using digital technology is a great way to strengthen them to minimize strain and decrease your risk of injury. Stretch your neck out and work your neck muscles in different directions, from side to side, with and without adding resistance with your hands. You should be able to feel your tight tendons stretching, and know where you need to be mindful.
It’s not just your neck that needs work! Most people don’t realize it, because it seems counterintuitive, but your whole core is used to hold up your upper body, including your back, torso, neck, and head. So don’t forget to work out your core if you want to strengthen your neck! In general, sedentary activities that cause text neck and other spinal strain don’t work your core out, so you’ll need to make a point to target these muscles on your own.
Injury Isn’t Inevitable
With the rise of smartphone-related injuries has come a wave of awareness that we need to be cautious about our use of technology. You don’t have to swear off your smartphone, but be smart about how you use it. Take note of your workplace screentime, and set up your office so that good posture comes naturally.
Our spines support our mind, it’s time we were more mindful of them!