As technology grows and changes over the years, so do the ways our body interacts with that technology. One example is the constant use of cell phones and tablets in recent decades. These mobile devices have offered us connection and information at our fingertips, but the position we assume when using these devices can be harmful. While text neck is not a formal medical diagnosis, it refers to a repetitive stress injury in someone who sits in this position often. Prevention is the key to avoiding chronic neck injuries that result from text neck, so it is important to know how to identify the problem.
Common Signs of Text Neck
When evaluating a patient with neck pain, there are a number of symptoms a provider will immediately look for and consider to be related to potential text neck.
Pain in the neck, upper back, and/or the shoulder
This pain could be located in a specific spot and feel intense and stabbing, or it can be a general ache or soreness that covers a broader region, like spanning from the bottom of the neck into the shoulders.
Forward head posture and rounded shoulders
One of the reasons text neck can happen is that we tend to hold our heads forward when looking at a device. This can cause deconditioning and imbalance in the chest, neck, and upper back muscles. Once this occurs, it’s difficult for the cervical spine to maintain good posture with the ears directly over the shoulder.
Reduction in mobility
Tightness, stiffness, and trouble moving the neck, upper back, and shoulder can occur as the muscles are strained.
The muscles that sit at the base of the neck can go into a spasm and cause pain, or pain can be referred from the neck up to the head. Looking at screens for an excessive amount of time, even with perfect posture, can also increase eyestrain and cause headaches.
Pain during neck flexion
Symptoms of text neck are usually worse when the neck is flexed into the forward position that caused the problem, such as looking at the phone.
Each case may present with symptoms differently. For example, someone who uses both hands to hold their phone or uses no hands to hold it, instead placing it is on a flat surface, is more susceptible to pain being evenly distributed across the body, while someone who routinely uses one hand may notice more issues on that side.
When the poor posture of text neck is performed for a long time, there are more serious issues that may occur, such as:
- Cervical radiculopathy, or the “pins and needles” tingling and numbness feeling, that radiates down the neck into the shoulder, arm, or hand
- Balance issues can occur if the head’s center of gravity migrates too much toward the front of the body
- Jaw pain as a result of spine and muscle imbalances
Diagnosing Text Neck
When you visit a chiropractor with neck pain, they will usually begin by taking a full review of your medical history, family health history, lifestyle and habits, medication, and any information on your current symptoms. They can then perform a physical examination and observe the neck for any unusual posture or lesions, as well as palpating to identify muscle tightness and tenderness. If necessary, they may also guide your head through various motions to see if certain movements alter the pain.
When the neck pain and stiffness are a result of text neck or another repetitive stress injury, these steps are usually enough to allow the doctor to make a diagnosis and start treatment. When more serious causes are suspected, imaging and other tests may be used.
It is important to be honest with your provider during these conversations and share with them how often you use your mobile devices and how you sit when doing so. Even if you know your posture is poor and you may be contributing to your pain, sharing that with them will allow a proper diagnosis and a better chance of relief.
Treating Text Neck
The treatment for text next will usually involve two main components: exercises and stretches that are used to increase strength and flexibility and improve habits during the use of mobile devices.
Exercises and Stretches
Muscle imbalances generally develop in two steps. First, the deep cervical flexor muscles at the front of the neck become elongated while the muscles that connect the head and the neck are shortened. Then the upper back muscles become elongated while chest muscles are shorted.
An exercise program will focus on addressing and reversing these imbalances to allow for a return to a natural and aligned posture. This can be accomplished by working with a physical therapist on a professional stretching and strengthening program, as well as by implementing home exercises to continue this program and maintain flexibility over time.
In order to prevent text neck coming back or worsening, there are a number of behaviors that are recommended around mobile device use and general lifestyle practices.
Good posture includes standing or sitting with your back straight, the chin tucked in, shoulders pulled back, and the body in a neutral position. It is also important to raise your phone or device up closer to eye level so that your body does not have to move forward. When you are sitting and using a device, be sure to take frequent breaks for stretching and incorporate arching the back periodically.
Finding ways to keep the body active is also an important element of neck strength. Regular physical activity is key, and it can be helpful to designate times to use a device in order to cut down on the constant looking down.
If you are experiencing neck pain or want to prevent it from happening, AICA Conyers is here to help. From chiropractors and physical therapists to neurosurgeons, we have a range of professionals dedicated to identifying the cause of your pain and creating customized treatment plans. Contact us today to relieve your pain!