Pain in The Neck—How Excessive Technology Use Can Create Serious Health Problems

October 2015 View more

businessman holding a phone and her neck with painBending your head to browse the web can create a real pain in the neck. Some experts call it “text neck.” This repetitive strain injury is becoming more common as we constantly hover over our wireless devices.

Poor Texting Posture

Consider the typical texting posture: your head tilts forward, shoulders droop, and a large amount of pressure is displaced in all of the wrong places. Looking down and dropping your head forward changes the natural curvature of your neck. Over time, that misalignment can strain muscles and cause wear and tear on the structures of the neck. Research from the journal Surgical Technology International suggests an adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds in a neutral position, but when tilted forward 60 degrees (the typical texting position), the force exerted on the neck can be up to 60 pounds. That’s about the weight of four adult-sized bowling balls, six plastic grocery bags full of food, or the weight of a third grader. The study found that this type of continuous pressure on the neck could lead to early degeneration on the neck muscles, possibly requiring surgery to repair.

Strain and Pain

Constantly hovering over smartphones can truly put a strain on your body much like sitting all day at a desk. Eric S. Furto, physical therapist at Edward Hospital in South Plainfield, says your cervical spine, thumb/wrist, and your head can be three areas that are most prevalent to this strain. “A sustained forward-flexed position can put undue strain onto the vertebral bodies and surrounding soft tissue, which includes ligaments, muscle, and discs,” said Furto. “All these structures have some type of neural innervation, which means sustained strain and irritation from bad posturing can lead to pain and inflammation.”

Hands and wrists can also be impacted. “Similar to any overuse injury, repetitive use of a single joint or muscle group can lead to tendinosis or joint laxity and inflammation,” said Furto. The poor texting posture can also create headaches. “Sustained forward posture places the head in a backward position on the top vertebrae of the neck. This can compress nerves that travel up the back of the head,” said Furto.

“Text Neck”

Besides muscle pain, “text neck” can cause other health problems. Sitting in a slumped position restricts your lungs’ ability to expand, impairing your lung capacity. You will then inhale less oxygen, so your heart needs to pump harder to distribute more oxygen-carrying blood throughout your body.

The most common musculoskeletal symptoms from continuous hunching over your wireless device include hand and wrist pain, neck pain, upper back pain, headaches, and numbness and tingling in the arms and the fingers. “If left untreated, the adult individual may become more susceptible to degenerative changes at the vertebral level and chronic tendinosis,” said Furto.

Long-Term Trouble

There’s not a lot of research on how this affects children and adolescents. “As children develop, their bone structure is more cartilaginous in nature, meaning they are more adaptable and flexible. As we move past adolescence, our bones calcify (harden) and assume a more fixed posture. Long-term studies are not available as to the impact on sustained forward posture in the adolescent spine. “However, one must assume that there will possibly be an impact on the formation of the spinal curves with increased forward posturing in adolescence,” said Furto.

No Easy Fix

No single exercise will iron out the kinks from chronic texting. But experts recommend you take frequent breaks. During these breaks, be aware of your posture. You should also try to maintain a seated or standing posture where the cheekbone is aligned directly over the top of the breastbone. Experts say this is the optimal position to avoid prolonged physical complications.