Text Neck: The next epidemic

Text Neck 2There is an epidemic sweeping the country – one that will probably affect at least 80% of our population in large or small ways. And younger people are even more likely to have this affliction. It’s called Text Neck!

This is actually a very real thing: because of the amount of time we spend on our devices, we are developing neck and spine issues. Do you have a cell phone? Work on a computer?

If we look at JUST cell phones, there are 6.8 billion cell phone contracts out there today. That’s almost as many as the population of the world, which is 7 billion. The age of children getting mobile phones is getting younger, due to more affordable contracts, and parents’ desire for staying in touch with their children for security reasons.

Young people 8-18 spend an average of 7 and a half hours per day on their phones. This is about a third of your waking time! University of Queensland in Australia found that messaging is an addictive service, equivalent in addictiveness to cigarette smoking!

Besides the social implications of being glued to your device, the more time you spend on these devices, the more the body accommodates you in terms of bone and muscle adaption. Staying in one place for long periods, the body adapts, thinking it is normal. So over a period of time, your neck and spine will get more and more out of alignment.

And it’s more than just an issue of looks. When the spine becomes out of alignment this way, the head starts to rest in a forward position, rather than above the shoulders where it should be. Then the weight on the spine dramatically increases. For every inch the head moves forward from its gravitational center, it feels as if it weighs an additional 10 lbs. Imagine you were to hold a bowling ball in your hands close to your body. Then hold it out in front of you. The weight hasn’t changed, but your brain’s perception of how heavy it feels does change, and so does the amount of effort required by the muscles, ligaments, and fascia. So, if your head normally weighs 12 lbs,, when it is positioned just 4 inches forward from its normal resting point, the spine has to do the work as if it weighs 42 lbs.

The head moving forward also causes the shoulders to rotate forward. This is exacerbated by the typical repetitive movements we do when at a computer or phone. Our arms are in front of us and we are looking down.

These spinal changes can cause chronic pain, including headaches. They have been studying this phenomenon and in one survey of 6,000 cases of people who suffer chronic headaches, it was found that complete or partial loss of the curve of the spine was the most consistent issue, and sometimes the only issue the person had.

Not surprisingly, this change in the spine also can create respiratory problems. The muscles of the neck attach to the first and second ribs. When the head is forward, the muscles don’t contract properly and it limits the oxygen. It can decrease lung capacity of up to 30% over time. Shortness of breath can lead to heart and vascular disease.

It can also affect the entire gastrointestinal system, especially the large intestine. Loss of bowel functioning is a common effect of this posture.

It can actually decrease brain functioning. About 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine. When your head is in a forward posture, it will take energy from your thinking, metabolism, and immune function in order to deal with the gravity and posture processing.

So there is a lot of bad news about something as simple as how our technology is affecting our posture and our health. What can we do about it??

The good news is, there are five things you can do to prevent or improve the situation. The first part of any solution is always prevention. It’s much easier to prevent something from happening than waiting until it does and then finding a solution.

1. Get an App. There is an app you can get for your smart phone. It will give a red light and vibrate if you are holding the phone at an angle that will produce text neck. Awareness is half the battle.

2. Get up and move. When you are working at a computer for long periods, or sending a lot of texts, your body is for all intents and purposes, motionless. Your muscles are stuck in one position. For that reason, they advise getting up at least once every 20 minutes. It’s best if you can actually take a minute to do some serious movement – walk around for a couple of minutes. But if not, at least standing and stretching helps the fatigued muscles to relax and realign themselves.

3. Standing or Moving desk. There are available more and more solutions in terms of desks that are meant to give you better ergonomics. There are standing desks, adjustable desks, and even desks with treadmills attached. In addition, there are dozens of options for adjustable chairs, computer stands, etc. There is a perfect solution to keeping you in the correct posture; it just may take some research to find out which is the perfect one for you.

4. Exercise. If you are someone who uses devices a lot, consider adding daily neck exercises to your routine. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Do ten repetitions of each of these daily.

a. Lie on the floor on your stomach, with your arms at your sides. Lift your upper torso off the ground and hold for a count of 4.
b. Standing with your arms straight out at your sides, with your thumbs backward and your palms up, move your arms straight back as far as they will go.
c. Standing, hold your arms out to the sides, with the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle with your hands straight up. Slowly turn your hands down to the floor and back.
d. Stand with your back against the wall, your arms at a 90 degree angle with your hands straight up. Slowly straighten your arms above your head and back to a 90 degree angle.

5. Get a massage! Today’s bodyworkers are trained to help lengthen these muscles through regular massage.

Don’t be a Text Neck victim! With a little bit of effort, you can prevent this condition and stay healthy.

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