The new phenomenon of the “Text Neck”, or is it?

A recent article in the TELEGRAPH reported the rise of a “new” condition, dubbed the “Text Neck”.

Read the Telegraph article here

The term, originally coined by Chiropractors in America, refers to pain and stiffness in the neck associated with prolonged use of hand held mobile devices – such as mobile phones, tablet computers and so on. It was claimed that there had been an increase in the number of people presenting with this condition and that without treatment, sufferers could risk permanent arthritic changes.

But is this really a new condition? More importantly, does this mean that a large number of us can look forward to having an ‘arthritic neck’?

It is true that bending your head forwards over a smartphone for hours a day, every day is probably not a particularly good idea. However, this is not limited to mobile phone use. Anyone who has a job or a hobby which requires them to maintain a static position for a prolonged period of time is probably going to complain of some discomfort. For many of us however, it is difficult to avoid these prolonged, repetitive postures without a change of job! There are a number of reasons why you may experience pain in these situations, it may be due to ischemia in the tissues, simply because the blood vessels supplying the joints, muscles and nerves don’t like to be squashed! A change of position usually resolves this pain.

The article discusses how the neck isn’t really designed to withstand prolonged flexed postures, especially balancing the rather heavy head on top of it and this may well lead to pain. The pain response is actually a natural one because it drives us to change position to alleviate the symptoms, thereby reducing the load on the tissues and maximising the health of these structures.

However, some of us can experience prolonged or repeated episodes of pain that are not relieved by changing position. This pain however, does not mean we are developing arthritis. In my own clinical experience, certain movement or postural ‘habits’ can alter the position of the head on the shoulders and ultimately increase the mechanical load on the tissues.

It is true that moving the neck and upper back can be helpful, it is also suggested sitting up straighter will help. I have lost count of the number of patients I have seen who have told me that they know they need to ‘sit up straighter’ or that they know they have ‘awful posture’! But why is sitting up such an effort to maintain? Well, our head position and therefore how well our neck moves is dependent on our pelvic position. For example, if you maintain a slumped posture your head will naturally become flexed. Looking up from this position will mean the mid part of the neck becomes extended, creating compressive forces through the back of these neck joints and elongating the muscles at the front of the neck which over time can cause pain. Altering the position of the pelvis alone will improve the head position, free the neck movement and reduce the risk of further neck pain.

Ultimately, hours of texting, laptop or tablet PC use may not be ideal for the health of your neck but it does not automatically lead to arthritis. If you are experiencing neck or back pain as a result of prolonged or repetitive postures and would like advice on what you can do to alleviate your symptoms, then please don’t hesitate to contact us for further advice.

Jenny
Principal Physiotherapist

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