You’ve heard of tennis elbow, runner’s knee and surfer’s ear, right? Well how about text neck?
While making a return to the health and skincare industry this year, I realized that there is a fundamental difference in our lifestyle since I last practiced in 2010.
One huge factor is that people are using smart phones and tablets so much more. Yes, that’s probably you, reading this. These devices are an intrinsic part of life, in the classroom, in our social life and in our businesses. You can pay for nearly anything (a car guard, a flat white or a delivered pizza) with a smart phone.
However, the use of these devices has changed our posture. And this is affecting our health.
The phenomena of this smart phone pose is described by medical professionals as Text Neck.
A study conducted by Dr Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, shows the ill effects of Text Neck on the spine. He says that tilting your head at 60 degrees (to analyse your selfie) adds the pressure of nearly 30 kg (about the weight of a seven year old) to your cervical spine (the part above your shoulders).
This is the effect of Text Neck on the curvature of the spine:
And this will give you an idea of how the weight of the load increases with the position of the head:
But hang on. Don’t wail with despair. It’s not all bad news here. There is no need for you to toss your smart phone and log off life.
Text Neck, while possibly causing wear and tear and definitely causing pain, is not going to kill you.
The good news is that there are a few strategies to keep you connected, pain free.
- Maintain good posture. Hold your phone up higher to keep your neck and spine aligned. If you need to use your device for prolonged periods, use a stand to prop it at a height that minimizes spinal curvature.
- Take regular breaks from your devices (you know, the water filter, the loo) and be sure to align your neck and spine on those outings. Also, please keep your shoulder blades retracted (ie. Not poking out like chicken wings). Bring your shoulders up to your ears, as close as you can, then let go. You’ll be amazed how far down they drop.
- If you are sitting down, (we’re back at the desk here) support your lower back (with a cushion) and don’t cross your legs while sending that WhatsApp.
- If you are standing (on a street corner, in line at Woollies or at the ATM, passing the time on Instagram), keep your feet hip distance apart, stomach tucked in, shoulders back and… lift that device.
- Pilates is a bit of a magic bullet when it comes to bad posture. Not only do the exercises mobilize your joints, but Pilates as a whole improves flexibility and makes your aware of your body alignment so that correct posture becomes your default. All that and it strengthens your core abs, which in turn support your spine.
Lindsay Mitchell Pilates in Westlake, Cape Town, is my preferred place of Pilates. Lindsay deserves a blog post of her own. Watch this space.
- Get a regular massage. I’ve noticed in my massage practice that if the client’s pain is not in the lower back, it’s in the cervical spine area (or both). This upper neck pain can often be associated with text neck. The levator scapula muscle is on duty when the neck is bent forward. The muscle’s origin is in the cerivcal verterbrae and it inserts onto the medial border of the scapula (shoulder blade).
Its’ job is to stabilize the shoulder blade, but it really has to work hard when you are looking down at your device. Levator scapula lies deep under the Trapezius muscle and under the sternocleidomastoid (on the side) and the splenius capitis (also toward the side of the neck). It takes time during the treatment to reach levator scapula, but the massage does relieve the headaches and pain the overworked muscle causes. Some people have such stiffness in the area they are virtually immobile. The rhomboids are also under pressure when you’re always looking at your device, they are a little lower down from the cervical area. A regular back, neck and shoulder massage will improve mobility, flexibility (to help you maintain good posture) and also relieve pain from those over worked muscles.
- Regular exercise.