How many hours a day do you spend on your phone? How many hours a day do you think young adults spend on their phone?
In a study done by Samani et al. (2018), 42% of young adults, age 18-24, spend an average of 2-4 hours a day on their phone and 27% of young adults spend an average of 4-6 hours a day on their phone, this time average does not include phone calls made.
Now think, if young adults are spending this much time on their phone EVERY day and they continue to spend this much time on their phone every day for many years to come, that’s likely going to result is neck pain and dysfunction. Our head and neck is not meant to be hunched forward for prolonged periods of time.
There is a term for this and it’s called “text neck syndrome.”
What is “Text Neck Syndrome?”
Text neck is a term that was coined by chiropractor, Dr. Dean L. Fishman. The definition of “text neck” is a repeated stress injury sustained from excess use of handheld devices for prolonged periods of time, resulting in pain (Samani et al., 2018).
Let’s look at the functional mechanics. The human head in a neutral position weighs 10-12 lb. on average. As the head moves into a forward position, the weight of the head for what the cervical spine has to control is increased. Samani et al. (2018) discuss that at 60 degrees of cervical flexion the force placed on the spine is an astounding 60 lbs.
When we are using our cell phones texting, checking our email, playing on apps, etc. most of us tend to go into that head forward position…that’s 60 pounds being placed on the spine–it’s no wonder people end up with this “text neck” neck pain.
Chronic Neck Pain and Cell Phones
Handheld technological devices definitely have many great positives, but they do have drawbacks that individuals need to be aware of.
Patients complaining of chronic neck pain, upper back pain and headaches should definitely be asked about the frequency of cell phone or other handheld device use. In the study done by Samani et al. (2018), 65% of the study participants had never heard of text neck syndrome. There’s a good chance your patient hasn’t even thought of the possibility that because they spend an average of 5 hours a day scrolling through Instagram, watching YouTube videos and looking up lifehacks on Pinterest, this activity could be the culprit of their continual neck pain and headaches.
A study was done that examined a subjective smartphone addiction scale and a subjective neck disability index assessment. The study found significant moderate positive correlation between smartphone addiction and neck disability (Shah & Sheth, 2018). In other words, the more individuals used their smartphone the more neck disability was reported.
Shah and Sheth (2018) discuss that excessive use of smartphones can result in habitual, repetitive and continuous movement of the head and neck closer to the screen throughout the day. We can get so wrapped up in whatever we doing on our phones that we totally forget about our posture and we may never even realize that we have a “bad” posture while using our phones.
Keep the Neck in Check
While none of us want to see ourselves in an unappealing manner, an idea to keep conscious of neck posture would be to have family member or close friend snap a picture of us, when we least expect it, in that head forward posture deeply focused on our cell phone. If we were to see ourselves in that head forward posture, unaware of how truly uncomfortable it looks, I bet a lot of us would pay more attention to our posture while using our handheld devices and avoid text neck.
As health care providers, we need to bring more awareness to the short-term and long-term effects of an individual’s posture while using cell phones, other handheld devices and computers. This education provided to patients of being aware of their posture and improving their posture can be a life changing for them.
Samani, P. P., Athavale, N. A., Shyam, A., & Sancheti, P. K. (2018). Awareness of text neck syndrome in young-adult population. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, 5(8), 3335-3339. DOI: 10.18203/2394-6040.ijcmph20183057
Shah, P. P., & Sheth M. S. (2018). Correlation of smartphone use addiction with text neck syndrome and SMS thumb in physiotherapy students. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, 5(6), xxx-xxx. DOI: 10.18203/2394-6040.ijcmph20180001