Do you ever experience neck pain and ask yourself why? Smartphones and tablets that are becoming an indispensable part of our life are to blame for the growing number of people who experience neck pain. Since these technologies are here to stay the question is how to take care of our spine, which has to serve us for many years to come?
What is text neck?
With 58% of the US adult population owning a smartphone a new phenomenon was observed – ‘text neck’. As much as we love our little gadgets they make us bend our head forward to read and text for several hours a day (2-4 hours on average) . This bad posture burdens our spine especially the upper part making neck pain very common among smartphone users. The situation becomes even more alarming when we know that teenagers spend more than 4 hours per day at their smartphone screen. The human head weighs around 10-12 lbs and our neck carries this weight. When we sit or stand straight our spine can take this pressure without any problems, but as we bend our head the pressure becomes much bigger. According to research published by dr.Kenneth Hansraj, at the National Library of Medicine bending the head for only 15 degrees puts a weight of 27 pounds on our spine, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.
This constant burdening of our neck leads to early wear, tear and degeneration of the spine that can cause severe constant neck pain and sometimes makes even surgery necessary.
The problem- prolonged forward head posture
The bad news is that many of us don’t have the forward head posture position only when looking at the smartphone but also during sitting in front of the computer, looking at tablets and e-readers, playing games, … This way we bend our head for hours every day putting enormous pressure on our spine and neck. Prolonged forward head posture causes changes in the spine, the curve of the neck, and the structures that support the neck. These structures include the muscles, the ligaments and the tendons. If we burden our spine for years with more pressure than it can take permanent changes to the spine and neck structure can be expected, like hunchback.
As mentioned above prolonged bad posture with head forward contributes to early wear, tear and degeneration, of the neck making chronic neck pain and shoulder soreness inevitable. Especially if you are the sendatery inactive type. Bad posture can also contribute to bad digestion, bad circulation, high blood pressure, muscle degeneration, etc.
Arthritis of the neck
One of the more serious permanent conditions bad head posture contributes to is arthritis. Ligaments hold our vertebrae together. Keeping our head tilted in front of the smartphone for hours stretches these ligaments and eventually overstretching of the ligaments makes them weakened. When the ligaments become loose the vertebrae lose their support and start moving around more then they should. This movement puts more pressure on the discs in between the vertebrae as well as on the spots where the vertebrae meet. This leads to degeneration of the intervertebral joints resulting in arthritis.
Neck and ligament creep
Ligament creep occurs from the elongation of the ligaments due to bad posture over a long period of time. When the ligaments become too lose they can’t support our neck as they should, enabling the vertebra to move and shift more than normal, pinching other structures surrounding them. With the ligaments out of order the neck and shoulder muscles will try to hold the vertebrae together. Since this isn’t the job of the muscles, more unpleasant symptoms will develop. These include muscle spasms, tightness across the shoulders, headaches, neck soreness and chronic neck pain. There can also be pain in the back, arms, fingers, hands, wrists, and elbows. Some people even report numbness and tingling in their upper extremities.
The solution to get rid of neck pain
While it is impossible to avoid modern technology that contributes to these health issues we can still make a conscious effort to minimize those effects. Those of you who have experienced chronic neck pain know how burdensome and painful this experience can be. So let’s make an effort to avoid the painful side of modern technology before it takes a toll on our health.
- Keep a good posture
Always try to keep a good posture. To have a good posture: align ears with your shoulders and retract your shoulder blades. Try to keep this position while standing or sitting since the spine takes the least amount of stress this way.
- Limit screen time for adults and children
Research shows that 67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Use your phone in a sensible way trying to incorporate more outdoor time with people you love. Is it really necessary to look at your phone all the time? Does it actually change something in your life if you haven’t read the newest Facebook post the second it was posted?
- Apps to remind you of your posture
Apps that will remind you of your posture while reading or texting on your phone aren’t perfect. I have tried the Text Neck Indicator LITE app from the google app store. As far as I have noticed they activate a small red signal when you tilt your phone to far horizontally. In other words you can ‘trick’ them quite easily by changing only the phones position and not your head position, which is actually the point of remaining a good posture. Never the less I find those apps really helpful as a reminder to keep my good posture. After all, there is no point in tricking myself.
- Move your eyes or phone instead of your head
When looking at your phone, tablet, e-reader, mp3 player, etc… try not to move your head downwards but only your eyes or simply lift your phone to your eyes without leaning forward with a hunched back.
When you experience chronic neck pain exercise is one of the things that will help you most to get rid of that pain. Even if you don’t experience any pain, exercising is a good idea considering the time people spend in front of their gadgets. For exercises to alleviate chronic neck pain it is necessary to combine neck stretching, neck strengthening and aerobic exercises.
These stretches are static stretches that are meant to relive neck pain. Static stretches should be hold from 30 seconds to two minutes to feel their effect. All of these exercises can be done easily at home or at the workplace.
Corner stretch exercise
This exercise stretches the chest and shoulder muscles.
- Stand in front of a corner. Place one foot forward.
- Place your forearms on each wall with your elbows a little below shoulder height.
- Lean in until you feel a stretch in the front of the shoulders and chest.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
Levator Scapula Stretch
This exercise stretches the levator scapula muscle that connects the upper cervical vertebrae and the scapula- shoulder blades. When this muscle aches people usually complain about “stiff-neck”, pain at the bottom of the neck and the fact that they can’t turn their head on the side that hurts. This simple stretching exercise will make a huge difference in mobility at the bottom of your neck.
- Stand straight with your arms on your hips, head facing forward.
- Flex your head to the right side gently, rotate your chin down, and bring your head a little bit more down by looking at your hip. This is also called a “pocket stretch” since you are doing the same movement as you would if you were looking at your pocket.
- Stabilize the stretch by straightening the left arm and putting it behind your back on your thigh.
- If you want to stretch a little bit further put the fingers of the right arm on the top of the head and gently pull the head forward increasing the stretch slightly.
- Hold this position for about 30 seconds to a minute.
- Repeat for the left side.
Neck strengthening exercises
Chin tucks will help put your head back in a better position and getting you closer to a good posture. This exercise strengthens the muscles that pull the head back into alignment over the shoulders. It is very simple and can be done standing or sitting down.
- Stand or sit straight wit your ears aligned with your shoulders.
- Simply pull your head backwards making a double chin.
- Hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds, relax and repeat 5-6 times
- Lie down on your stomach with your arms down at your side and your palms down on the floor
- Lift your head and chest off the ground. Don’t look up just keep your head in the same line with your chest.
- Lift the hands from the floor. Roll the elbows in, palms out and thumbs up.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together bringing them down towards your waist
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times.
The longer you can hold this position the better you’re going to strengthen your back muscles.
Since bad posture, text-neck and being hunched over a computer is not only bad for your back but also contributes to bad digestion, bad circulation, high blood pressure, muscle degeneration, etc. it’s important to be physically active and keep your circulation going. One of the best aerobic exercises is brisk walking for 30 minutes a day. Brisk walking means to walk a little bit faster but still be able to talk with someone while walking. While walking be conscious of your posture and try to walk with a straight back, ears aligned with your shoulders, eyes focused at the horizon, without sloughing or leaning forward. Also make a conscious effort to incorporate more physical activity in your life whenever it is possible.
It’s clear that we are not going to deny ourselves modern technology wonders, but that means we have to be aware of the toll it can have on our health. By paying attention to the way we use modern technology in our lives and exercising regularly chronic neck pain can be prevented and relieved effectively.
Photo credit: Texting by Kamyar Adl