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How to limit the damage and what you can do to prevent “text neck”

The first mobile phone call was made 48 years ago, on April 3, 1973, by Motorola employee Martin Cooper. Although this might seem like a long time ago, the reality is our bodies are not designed or have evolved to deal with this forced, unnatural postural position we now find ourselves in due to modern digital technology.

Text neck was a term coined by US chiropractor Dr Dean L. Fishman, ‘text neck’ refers to overuse syndrome in the neck, where we’re placing our necks into an overstressed forward curve. It describes a repetitive stress injury caused by prolonged use of mobile devices with the head bent down and fixed in a static position for long periods.

It can be related to many modern-day activities performed on other digital devices.

Although text neck is commonly associated with texting which is likely to involve the use of both hands as well, so your neck moves forward your shoulders can round forward or lift up toward your ears.

Research has shown individuals spend 1,400 hours every year staring at their phones, on average, this is around fours hours a day.

Containing seven small vertebrae, the neck is highly flexible and the most flexible part of the spine which makes it more vulnerable to damage and pain. The neck’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments are meant to support the head’s weight—10 to 12 pounds in a neutral position balanced above the spine.

With the head bent forward, the extra strain and pressure from the weight of our heads put an extra 50-60 pounds of force on this area of our neck, over a prolonged period, it’s this that causes the damage. This can be tension in the neck and shoulder region and the cause of upper back pain, it can also cause stiffness, headaches and have long term effects, especially in the young who start off using digital devices at a much younger age.

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Tips to prevent Tech neck

The first step is to recognise this is a problem, once we acknowledge this then we can do something about it. Set some time limits

  1. Develop a postural awareness when using the phone, try to notice if you’re chin is jutting out and your head is bent forward and looking down for long periods. Pay attention to any pain or stiffness that might develop so you can address this quickly. A proactive approach instead of a reactive one is something to develop.
  2. Set some time limits and alerts on your phone usage, especially when texting.
  3. Try not to use your phone when walking.

4. Correct your posture, by taking micro-breaks it’s is a good opportunity to develop awareness.
You can use a mirror for this purpose to help you analyse your posture. A neutral posture is where everything is in balance and your head is aligned and supported by the natural curves of your spine. It’s a position of relaxed ease that your body can sustain with minimal effort, with no tension, stress or pain held in the body.

5. Use earphones when talking, if you’re having a video call raise the screen higher so it’s close to eye level.

6. Move, stretch and exercise regularly, try to aim for 2-3 minutes every hour.

7. Take up a regular practice that focuses on the body – Yoga, Pilates, the Alexander technique or Tai chi, will all provide huge benefits. Any movement therapy will help us to develop a deeper understanding on how we use our bodies and the damage that can be caused by a sedentary job involving digital technology.

8. The Alexander technique has a regular practice of lying down in the semi-supine position, this is where you lie down on a mat on the floor with a couple of paperback books under your head to raise it slightly. Bend your knees you position your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. By using gravity and mindful deep breathing, this position improves flexibility and decompresses the spine. See more here:  https://alexandertechnique.co.uk/learning-it/semi-supine

9. There are simple exercises that can really help, over time we develop bad habits by pulling our chins back so we create a double chin, we can experiment to see where our natural alignment should be, this counteracts turtle neck and the jutting out of our chins.

10. Any exercise that opens up your chest and engages your neck, chest, upper back, shoulder blades and lower back is good. Get into a healthy routine, by developing a series of gentle, slow stretching exercises that involve bending, twisting, core strength and lengthening. This way you will develop and maintain your flexibility as you age.

11. Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day. Good hydration is very important for the health of our spines.

12. Think long term about the potential damage our addiction to mobile devices can cause.
It helps to visualise how you’d like to be in 10, 20 30 years. This long-term view will help you develop simple, easy strategies that will benefit your health and wellbeing.

This video is an introduction to improve posture. It shows two activities that can quickly release muscle tension specially around the neck, shoulders and lower back. The semi supine activity is an efficient way to the length the spine. Also, the half squat activity is effective on maintaining the length of our spine in daily activities and it builds new healthy postural habits.

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