Do you have Text Neck?
It’s almost hard to believe there is now a term for a medical condition caused by too much screen time! The reality is (sad or not) that our postures have changed based on our cultural and lifestyle choices.‘Text’ Neck is an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury to the neck caused by holding your head in a forward and downward position for extended periods of time. When holding your head in this position, excessive amounts of tension are created in the deep muscles of your neck and across the shoulders causing both acute and chronic neck pain. Chronic headaches have also been linked to this condition. The increased frequency of these pains is due to the increasing popularity and hours people spend on handheld devices such as smartphones, e-readers, iPads and tablets.
WHAT EXACTLY CAUSES ‘TEXT NECK SYNDROME’?
In an upright posture, when your ear lobes are aligned with the centre of your shoulders, the weight of the average head exerts approximately 4.5 to 5.5 kgs of force through the muscles and joints of the neck. However, when your head is moved forward by only 2 to 3cms away from this neutral position, the weight of your head dramatically increases, and approximately 6 times as much force can be generated. This translates to approximately 30kg, the same weight as an average 8-year-old, or 6 ten-pin bowling balls! If left untreated, a ‘text’ neck can lead to the inflammation of the neck ligaments, nerve irritation and increased curvature (lordosis) in the cervical (neck) spine. It can also develop an upper thoracic postural deformity known as a “dowagers” hump (a protruding lump at the base of your neck), which can result in alteration of the bone structure of your vertebrae in this region.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ‘TEXT’ NECK
‘Text’ neck may have one or more of these signs and symptoms:
- Instant or delayed-onset upper back or neck pain when using a handheld device, and for hours following use
- Nagging or sharp pain in the neck or shoulders at the end of the day or postural fatigue
- General shoulder pain and tightness
- ‘Head forward’ or ‘chin poke’ posture
- Intermittent or constant headaches made worse when looking down or using the computer
- Nerve irritation referring pain into your head or down your arms
- Limited neck mobility and muscle spasm.
TREATMENT FOR ‘TEXT’ NECK
‘Text’ neck can be managed conservatively (ie. without an operation) by a physical or massage therapist. The main aims of treatment are to reduce the tension within the neck muscles, reduce the pain within your neck and address the postures that aggravate your symptoms.
- Postural awareness
- Strengthening exercises for your neck muscles
- Stretching to relieve muscle tightness and improve mobility in your neck and shoulders
- Correcting sitting postures, desk use and finding ways to support your arms or shoulders whilst using devices.
After your clinician has assessed your lifestyle, posture and your neck structures their treatments may include:
- Joint mobilisations
- Exercise therapy
- Postural taping techniques
- Soft tissue massage, heat therapy, dry needling, electrotherapy
- Posture and ergonomic education.
Phases of treatment and recovery
PHASE I –
Reducing Pain & Inflammation Pain and inflammation are strong inhibitors of normal muscle and joint movement. Pain is the main reason people seek treatment, and should be the first symptom to improve.
PHASE II –
Restoring Normal Range Of Motion and Strength As your pain settles, your therapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal joint alignment and range of motion, including muscle length and resting tension, muscle strength and endurance. Your therapist will assess your muscle recruitment pattern and prescribe the best exercises specific to your needs.
They may also start you on a deep neck flexor and scapular/upper thoracic spine strengthening programme to facilitate dynamic control of your neck and head. They may also recommend a stretching programme and regular massage for ongoing care.
PHASE III – Restore Full Function
Depending on your lifestyle your physical therapist will tailor your rehabilitation to fit in with work, school or sporting demands.
PHASE IV – Preventing a Recurrence
Aiming to restore and maintain good posture should be the long term goal. It’s not easy, because most people aren’t prepared to give up their smartphone or tablet, however monitoring hours of use, being aware of your posture while using your device, having regular prompts on your device to remind you of your posture, and becoming stronger in maintaining good neck posture will all help prevent or reduce pain and headaches in the future.
Best Text Neck Exercises
Having a poor posture or a good posture, is something that becomes a habit. In the same way your exercise routine has to become a habit. You won’t see changes overnight, but with consistency over time you will see changes in your posture and feel your body moving better with less pain and stiffness. You may not experience a total transformation to the ‘ideal’ posture, but by being aware of your posture and making changes through regular exercise, and changing your lifestyle and work routines, you will be doing yourself a huge favour in the long-term health of your joints and spine.
When stretching or strengthening a muscle make sure it is not painful, push yourself but work within comfortable limits. These exercises are a basic routine for specific poor postures; however, every person is unique (and may not fit exact molds). So, if any exercise is painful or too hard, speak to your physical therapist and make changes specific to your needs. Always focus on form – how you do the exercise correctly and with good control – rather than rushing or pushing too hard and loosing your alignment.
1. Neck Flexion Overstretch
Bend your neck forwards, and place a hand on your back of your head and gently pull your neck so that your chin tucks downwards. This will stretch your neck muscles. Hold the stretch for the required time, and relax.
2. Levator Scapulae Stretch
Bend your neck forwards, and then side-bend your neck by taking your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold on to a chair to make the stretch stronger. This will allow you to feel a stretch at the back and side of your neck. You can make the stretch stronger by assisting with your hand. Repeat each side.
3. Sitting Extension
Support your neck by placing your hands interlocked behind your neck. Rounds you lower back slightly, to focus the movement to the upper back, and slowly bend backwards.
4. Neck Flexor Strengthening
Lie on your back, and lift your head off the floor/bed while tucking your chin in slightly. You should feel the muscles at the front and side of your neck contracting. Use a pillow if that feels more comfortable.
5. Neck Flattening
Lying flat, tuck your chin down to your chest reducing the gap between your neck and the floor. You will feel a gentle stretch at the top back of your neck. Hold this position, and then relax. Repeat as required.
6. Floor Superman Two Arms
Lie on your front, and lift both arms straight in front of you. Hold this position, and then relax. This exercise helps to arch your lower back (to create what is known as a lumbar hyperlordosis) while strengthening the lower back and abdominal muscles.
Our professional team of therapists are trained in the assesment of posture and well- equipped to help you work through effective treatment and rehabilitation. If you would like advice, assesment or guidence on your posture or your current problem, don’t hesitate to contact us.
The information contained in this article is intended as general guidance and information only and should not be relied upon as a basis for planning individual medical care or as a substitute for specialist medical advice in each individual case.