Millions of Americans are frequent smartphone, tablet, Kindle, and computer users and can spend hours on end looking down at their devices which can result in a rounded shoulder and forward head posture. Spending excessive time in dysfunctional postures as well as lack of exercise, stretching, and postural stabilization can lead to increased flexion of our lower cervical vertebrae and the upper thoracic vertebra, increased “flattening” of our upper cervical vertebrae, and tightness in the muscles at the base of our skulls. This posture, along with rounded shoulders, can result in face, jaw, or skull pain, headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, disc degeneration, and overall stiffness of our neck and shoulder muscles. Weakness in our back musculature, elevating your head to high while sleeping, and prolonged periods of time reading can also contribute to forward head posture. This modern-day phenomenon is widely known as “text neck”.
So, what exactly is “text neck” and what are these contemporary conveniences doing to our bodies?Symptoms of text neck:
- Headaches, due to tightness or tension in the muscles attaching to the skull (suboccipitals)
- Upper crossed syndrome- tightness of the upper trapezius, levator scapula, pectoralis major and minor along with weakness of the deep neck flexors, middle, and lower trapezius.
- Stiffness and or pain in the neck
- Possible disc compression or narrowing of the spine
- Changing of the structure and shape of the cervical or thoracic spine.
- Decreased lung capacity
A surgeon-led study that published in Surgical Technology International assessed what impact surgeons’ head and neck posture during surgery—a posture similar to that of smart-phone texters—has on their cervical spines. With each degree that our heads flex forward (as we stare at a screen below eye level), the strain on our spines dramatically increases. When an adult head (that weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position) tilts forward at 30 degrees, the weight seen by the spine climbs to a staggering 40 pounds, according to the study.
How prevalent of a problem is this?
According to the study, the average person spends 14 to 28 hours each week with their heads tilted over a laptop, smartphone or similar device. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 700 to 1400 hours of strain and stress on our spines. As a result, the number of people dealing with headaches, achy necks and shoulders and other associated pain has skyrocketed.
What to do to combat this issue?
Ergonomic work desks placed at the appropriate heights and angles can greatly reduce our tendency to adopt this maladaptive forward head posture as well using the correct number of pillows while sleeping.
Reducing time on our smart devices to less than 1 hour and taking breaks every 30 minutes while completing computer work or reading are great ways to reduce excessive time looking down. Performing exercises that lengthen commonly affected and shortened muscles such as our upper trapezius, neck muscles, and pectorals will help to alleviate tension and soreness in the head and neck. Finally, performing activities that reinforce proper postural alignment such as chin tucks and scapular stabilizer strengthening are key tools to improve upper quarter endurance and reduce forward head/rounded shoulder posture.
Over time, this type of poor posture can have a cumulative effect, leading to spine degeneration, pinched nerves and muscle strains. Scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist can help people learn how to interact with their devices without harming their spines. The PT will prescribe an at-home program that includes strategies and exercises that focus on preserving the spine and preventing long term damage.
For more information please contact Innovative Physical Therapy at 619-260-0750 to speak with one of our therapists today!
Research from: T oh SH, Coenen P, Howie EK, Straker LM. The associations of mobile touch screen device use with musculoskeletal symptoms and exposures: a systematic review. PLoS One 2017; 12(8): e0181220. Accessed 18 July 2019. Jump up↑ Sharan D, Mohandoss M, Ranganathan R, Jose J. Musculoskeletal disorders of upper extremities due to extensive usage of hand held devices. Annals of Ann Occup Environ Med. 2014; 26(22). Accessed 18 July 2019. Jump up↑ Kwon JW, Son SM, Lee NK. Changes in upper-extremity muscle activities due to head position in subjects with a forward head posture and rounded shoulders. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015. 27; 6:1739–1742. Accessed 18 July 2019. https://ppsapta.org/userfiles/File/APTA