The use of hand-held devices has many people- both young and older adults- developing neck problems, says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Derek Ju.
It seems like everywhere you look, people of all ages are looking down at their phones. They do it at home, at work, in school, in restaurants, while waiting for a train, Even while walking, driving and riding a bike. Concern about the pervasiveness of handheld devices exists for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the detrimental affect they have on the cervical spines of children, teens and adults. Some call it Text Neck. By some estimates, adults spend an average of 5 hours a day using a mobile phone or tablet, while teens report using their devices almost constantly throughout the day. As a result, more and more people are developing neck pain caused primarily by holding their heads in an abnormal way.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR NECK?
Consider this. A quick glance down at your phone adds about 20 pounds of unnatural force to the discs in your neck. That weight more than doubles when you are fully engaged with your device. Putting that stress on your cervical spine for hours a day, every day can accelerate the natural wear and tear on the cervical bones and discs.
Leaning your head forward compresses and tightens the muscles in the front of your neck and lengthens the tendons, ligaments and muscles in the back of the neck. Over time, this can cause inflammation and weakness. Abnormal flexion also can be responsible for headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain and nerve-related symptoms such as radiating pain, tingling, numbness and/or burning in one or both arms. Your chances for disc herniation and early arthritis are also increased.
Growing children and teens can develop those problems too, but they have the additional risk for skeletal deformity. Studies have shown that overtime, younger people who strain their neck muscles by holding their heads in a forward tilt for prolonged periods can develop an abnormal curvature in the upper back and neck.
CAN TEXT NECK BE TREATED?
Physical therapy and in some cases, surgery can help alleviate the symptoms brought on by the overuse of these devices, but there are other steps you can try before it gets to that point. Young people should be encouraged to engage in physical activities that help strengthen their neck and spine, and limit the amount of time spent gaming and texting. People of all ages can benefit from activities that promote good posture, such as yoga or Pilates. When possible, it is best to use a desktop or laptop computer with the screen at the ergonomically correct angle. When testing or reading on your phone, elevate your phone so you are holding your head properly on top of the spine. Long term, however, the solution may be easier said than done. Best advise, look up from your device and notice what’s around you. The text can wait!
Dr. Ju is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and disorders of the spine. He is experienced with minimally invasive surgery, robotic spine surgery, and motion preservation (non-fusion surgery). He customizes each treatment plan to each patient’s needs, with a focus on non-operative management when possible.