Why "Text Neck" Is Wrecking Your Spine + How To Fix It

Photo: Twenty20

This article was co-written by Dr. Mike Buckle.

Even if you've never heard the term "text neck" before, you're likely experiencing it. The term came about because people were getting neck pain—as well as actually causing damage to their cervical spine, supporting ligaments, tendons, and muscles—from looking down at their cellphones, tablets, or other wireless devices too often and for way too long.

Welcome to the 21st century, where technology has possibly become more important than our health. Today when you people-watch, all you'll notice is that everyone's heads are buried in their mobile devices. Kids at schools are being taught on iPads, 9-year-olds have smartphones, and even toddlers are given tablets at dinnertime to keep them quiet. Technology is the new pacifier.

The future is here, and the sooner kids start learning about technology the better off they will be once they get into the workplace. But what's going to happen to our health? Not only have our attention spans come down to three-minute blocks, but we are also literally changing the physical structure of our bodies.

How text neck affects your well-being:

A head typically weighs 10 to 12 pounds, and some say that for every inch your head moves forward, backward, or side-to-side, it gains an extra 10 pounds. So imagine you move your head 4 inches down to look at you smartphone, your spine now has to hold an extra 40 pounds up on top of the 10 to 12 pounds that your head already weighs.

Can you imagine what that will do to the bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves over time? At this point, you may start to form some bone spurs because that will help create more stability in the spine. Ligaments and muscles are constantly being stretched, which means that they are under constant pressure to hold the head up (and remember the head is heavier and heavier now), so the ligaments become thicker and the muscles become tighter. Voilà … now you have neck pain, and you may start to see more headaches, possibly some TMJ tension, and even lower-back problems.

If text neck is left untreated, chronic issues could start to develop such as spinal degeneration, arthritis, disc herniation/compression, nerve damage, and more.

A natural technique to heal:

Acupuncture can decrease the inflammation in the neck muscles and ligaments. This will take some of the stress off and allow everything to start healing. Because acupuncture increases circulation, it will also increase the rate of healing to any acute or chronic damage created over time from the repetitive motion of holding one's head up.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we talk a lot about treating the root or the branch or both at the same time if needed. The root is the origin of the problem, and the branches are the manifestation of that problem. Since text neck can cause more than just neck pain, we will consider all symptoms the patient presents and decide then what is most important to treat. In this case we will always treat the neck (the root) because unless that becomes healthy again, none of the other symptoms will disappear. But let's say that a patient is suffering from a lot of headaches and the headache pain is more severe than the neck pain; we may for the first few sessions focus on the headache and treat the neck as a secondary issue.

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How to avoid text neck in the future:

Acupuncture is very effective at treating the symptoms of text neck and can rid the body of most of the pain and discomfort you feel from it. But what are you supposed to do about technology? How do we fix the causes of text neck? It does not seem to be going away anytime soon, so we need to learn to coexist in a way that is not harmful to our bodies.

The best way to reduce the risk or occurrence of text neck is to restore proper function and posture to the head, neck, and body. Some easy ideas are simply altering your daily routine, such as setting a timer and getting up every hour to stretch the neck, walk around, get a drink of water, or wearing a posture-support shirt or posture reminder to minimize the slouching and forward shift of your head.

Other ideas such as using a standing workstation, elevating your computer screen to eye level (or getting an external keyboard and elevating your laptop to eye level), and turning up the brightness of your monitor can help to keep you from leaning in, thus minimizing the stress on your head and neck.

Technology is changing the world almost daily—we just have to make sure we are helping our bodies and routines to change as well.

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