Today’s society has relied upon text messaging, social media, and other applications via mobile devices to communicate for years, but recent research has shown that the increase in the use of technology could in fact be a major cause of neck pain.
A recent research article in the Applied Ergonomics journal measured the postural problems and how the style of texting and the size of the screen affect some of the muscles in one’s shoulder and trapezius (upper back) area. The article was titled “Mobile input Device type, texting style and screen size influence upper extremity and trapezius muscle activity, and cervical posture while texting.” The research was completed at Rutgers University at the School of Health Related Professions by David M. Kietrys, Michael J. Greg, et al.
The research was able to demonstrate that there is a correlation between high rates of mobile device usage and neck/upper back pain. It also concluded that larger devices have a higher incidence of symptoms due mostly to their size, e.g. people tend to set a pad on their lap but hold a phone slightly higher.
With proper posture, the human head weighs anywhere between 10-12lbs. When sending a text or using a handheld electronic device, your head goes into a downward-looking position, known as forward flexion, which increases the load on your neck and also increases the stress on the muscles. What occurs is your muscles in your upper back become over stretched and stressed causing that common tender portion in your upper back. Your Trapezius and Levator Scapulae muscle are now trying to support your neck and shoulders at the same time. Your shoulders should be supported by your Rhomboids and middle Trapezius to help alleviate the stress, while the neck should be supported by the upper Trapezius and other Cervical muscles.
Research done by Dr. Kenneth Hansraj has shown that even the smallest amount of forward flexion causes tension on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the neck and shoulders. Considering smartphone users spend an average of 2-4 hours per day looking down on their mobile devices, it’s not a surprise that we have this new dysfunction called “Text Neck.”
Text neck is a new term used to demonstrate the musculoskeletal pain associated with looking down at a mobile device for extended periods of time. We can all agree that with the invention of mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone that more people are spending time in a position of poor posture. If left untreated, it can lead to spinal degeneration, muscle tightness/pain, and even numbness and tingling down into the arm. Headaches, as well as decreased lung capacity, have even been linked to this common dysfunction. To demonstrate this, hunch forward and try to breathe, then sit up straight and try to breathe. You should be able to see the importance of posture by this simple demonstration of how much easier it is to breathe in proper posture. Better breathing equals less stress on the muscles that move the rib cage as well as improved oxygen intake.
In order to stop text neck from progressing, it is important to be conscious of your posture. There is no avoiding the forward flexion position completely, but research shows that decreasing the angle of your neck by raising the phone to eye level can help to greatly reduce the likelihood of progression.
Stretching, Active Release Technique, corrective exercise, and even chiropractic care has been proven to help relieve symptoms and restore proper posture in patients suffering from text neck. If you feel your neck pain has been caused by poor posture due to cell phone use, feel free to stop in for help.