“Text neck” syndrome is also known as broken neck syndrome, among other terms. However, the former is a reference to a common cause of this neck condition: the use of cellphones. It has become more common due to the prevalence of the use of smartphones and other electronic devices.
This syndrome manifests with a series of painful neck symptoms. The pain usually begins in the cervical region and extends to the shoulders and the back. There may also be a headache. Even though the main problem here is pain, there’s been medical warnings about other disorders generated by these devices for a while. These include problems stemming from exposure to the screen lights and joint damage caused by repetitive movements.
Young people are the most affected by this condition, as this group uses mobile devices for longer periods. However, considering there are about three billion cell phone users in the world, the population that’s susceptible to this condition is huge.
Text neck syndrome is a recognized condition, even though it isn’t yet part of the international classification of diseases. You could say it’s a form of cervicalgia or vertiginous syndrome. However, in this particular case, the cervical pain is due to the position of the head.
Causes of text neck syndrome
The underlying problem here is the position of the head, which is directly related to the use of cell phones. However, what really causes the pain, in the end, is an abnormal head inclination for extended periods.
When the head is straight or in a normal neutral position, the weight it exerts on the spine is about 9-10 pounds. This is what skulls usually weigh. Thus, when you tilt your head forward, the weight that the neck must support increases. A mere shift to a forty-five-degree angle increases the weight.
So, the problem becomes a habit and worsens and the more you use your phone the greater the angle you use to write and read on it. It happens progressively, and many barely notice it.
But what about computers?
Cell phones cause a greater head tilt than computers. Researchers also discovered that there’s less lateralization of the head and a lower elevation of the shoulders when a person uses a computer.
Ergonomists (the people who study posture and how it impacts human health) use a scale to assess risk. It’s called the RULA scale, and everyday cellphone use yields a score of 6, which is a very high risk.
What’s the ideal position for using a smartphone?
Like any activity that involves a specific posture, there are better, healthier ways to do it. There are three main concepts for the correct position of your body while using a smartphone:
- Keep your head in the zero-degree neutral position.
- Always keep the arm that’s holding the smartphone at eye level so as not to force your skull down.
- Rest your neck at various time intervals and vary the position.
Because text neck syndrome is also linked to the continuous use of computers, the above recommendations also apply to computer use. Thus, maintain your head at zero degrees when using a computer. Elevate your monitor to eye level and take breaks at regular intervals.
Steps to prevent text neck syndrome
Drastic measures aren’t necessary to prevent text neck syndrome. Here are some basic recommendations you can apply immediately:
- Lay off the smartphone. Take breaks from the screens, especially from your cell phone and allow your eyes and neck muscles to relax.
- Take the opportunity to move your head around and stretch your cervical muscles when you’re not using these devices. You can also stretch your upper limbs to relax your neck even further.
- Elevate your arms and use supports. Keep your screens at eye level so your head can remain in a neutral position. Check the posture of the arm that holds the cell phone and adjust the height of your desks and tables.
- Regulate the light of your screen. Phone light can overstimulate your eye muscles, and these are related to cervical contractures.
- Don’t use the cell phone after you go to bed. It’s common for people to read and review their messages in bed. This leads to a completely unnatural position because you have to force your arms up, overstimulate your sight and hold your neck without support.
Consult a health professional if you’re in pain due to text neck syndrome. They should be able to diagnose you and give you some physiotherapy sessions and a pain reliever to calm it momentarily. However, don’t be too scared of this condition, but know that you’ll be much more comfortable if you can prevent it.