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  • Do You Have “Text Neck”?

    As much as having the internet at our fingertips is a miracle in itself, it hasn’t come without its troubles. “Text Neck” is the newest technology-induced body alignment pathology that is becoming a commonplace source of pain for many people.

    The term was coined by Florida Chiropractor and founder of the Text Neck Institute Dr. Dean L. Fishman, D.C., who explains text neck as, “an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury, where you have your head hung forward and down looking at your mobile device for extended periods of time.” The syndrome used to be called “Scholar’s Neck,” as it was often something you saw when people hovered their heads over books for long periods of time.

    Dr. Fishman also added, “Don’t get me wrong: I love technology, but this is a global epidemic not just from texting, but from using all sorts of wireless media.”

    When most people use a smartphone, tablet, or even computer, their focus goes forward, bringing their neck and shoulders forward, rounding the back, shortening the pecs, and throwing their overall posture out of good alignment. Their bodies get used to it, making this the new “normal” and proper posture that is almost exhausting to uphold.

    The head itself weighs anywhere from 10–12 pounds on average, and when the neck slumps forward, the pressure of that weight increases incrementally on the vertebrae of the neck, also known as the cervical spine. A fifteen-degree forward tilt in your head puts an extra 27 pounds of pressure on your cervical spine, and a 60-degree tilt, the average angle many people view their phones at, increases that pressure to 60 pounds. (That’s the equivalent of a female golden retriever or a small child!) Short-term effects include headaches, pain in the upper back and neck, and increased susceptibility to injury. The long-term effects could include anything from pinched nerves to herniated discs.

    I’m aware that you’re not planning to ditch your smartphone anytime soon, but luckily, all hope is not lost. Aside from bringing a general sense of awareness to your posture as you use your technology, there are different stretches and exercises you can do to counteract this growing epidemic.

    Fix the root of your problem: Hold your phone at eye level.

    A study was done at the Text Neck Institute of two groups ages 13 to 27. Both groups were suffering from the common symptoms of text neck (headaches, neck aches, poor posture, etc). As part of the study, both groups were given x-rays, chiropractic care, and exercises to do at home. Although both groups reported feeling much better after only one month, one group was asked to hold their phone at eye level, adjusting the source of the initial problem. That group showed a significantly better overall improvement.

    “That was apparently the most important element,” Dr. Fishman noted in regards to changing the angle in which one viewed their phone.

    As text neck is a pathology of posture, taking steps to correct that posture is just as important as the exercises and stretches you do to fix it. If you stretch your back every single night, but still spend eight hours a day hunching forward at your desk, the relief you get will be limited. Make sure your computer screen is at eye level as well, if you work at a computer. Don’t sit on the couch with your laptop on your knees and attempt to get your homework done that way. As comfortable as you may feel for a moment, a couch isn’t conducive to proper posture at all.

    In addition to holding your phone up, take breaks often. I’m sure we’ve all felt the fatigue that happens not only in your muscles, but probably your eyeballs as well when staring at a screen for too long. If you feel yourself dropping your phone and your head begin to hang forward, take a break from the screen. If you work at a computer all day, even just a couple of minutes per hour can go a long way in helping the postural issues that come with this kind of work. Look to the ceiling, do some neck rolls, and try some of the stretches and exercises listed in the next section.

    Stretch and Strengthen.

    After having text-neck posture for a period of time, your back and neck may develop what is called kyphosis (think a mild version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The spine curves forward, the neck juts out instead of being tucked in, the pectoralis (chest) muscles become shortened and tight, and the muscles of the upper back are perpetually stretched out and weakened. This can cause a burning, achy sensation throughout the upper back and neck that usually declines once you are active.

    Once awareness is brought to this issue, it is easier to fix. Massage, of course, helps greatly as it can break up tension that builds up in the upper back, neck, and chest muscles over time, as well as plays a great role in reducing pain. Chiropractic adjustments also go a long way in helping as they push the skeletal system back into its proper alignment. There are also several things you can do at home to help prevent text-neck as well as the kyphosis that may follow. Any exercise routine that focuses heavily on posture can help alleviate many of these symptoms, such as yoga, Pilates, or Bar Method.

    Strengthen your upper back.

    A strong upper back can help keep your scapulas retracted and spine in proper form. The more conditioned your upper back muscles are, the less likely they are to let your shoulders release and slouch forward as well. Here are two exercises you can try, one is simple enough you can do at your desk, and the other you may throw into your workout regimen at the gym.

    The Shoulder Blade Squeeze

    First, lie on your stomach on the floor, or on a mat, whichever you prefer, with your arms extended out in front of you. Then, slowly concentrate on pulling your shoulder blades down towards, as if you’re trying to put them in your back pocket. As you do this, lift both arms towards the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat. Do this exercise ten times.

    Stretch your Pecs

    As tight, retracted pecs are one of the common symptoms of poor posture, loosening this area can go a long way in taking pressure off the upper back. I always recommend the doorway stretch to my clients. It’s easy, and you can do it anywhere where there’s, well, a door…

    The Doorway Stretch

    As I mentioned, this one is easy to throw in at any point throughout the day. If you think about doing it every time you walk in or out of the bathroom, you will feel your pectoralis muscles increasing in flexibility before you know it!

    Rest both hands on either side of the doorframe. Lean forward through the doorframe until you feel a stretch through your chest and the front of your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat. I personally like to stretch my head backward as I do this stretch as well to loosen the anterior neck muscles that can get tight from text neck and poor posture as well.

    Backbend on a Ball

    If you have access to a sufficiently sized exercise ball, this is an excellent decompressor at the end of the day. Start with your feet flat on the ground and knees slightly bent. Roll the ball back slightly as you extend your legs and feel your spine curve with the ball. Keep your eyes fixated on the ceiling, as this will keep your neck in neutral spine and also prevent your neck from hyperextending. Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position, and repeat. Taking breaks with this one will prevent you from getting dizzy or lightheaded from having your head upside down.

    The Text Neck App

    Yes, there is an app for that. The Text Neck Indicator was developed by Dr. Fishman to help patients catch themselves in real-time. The app indicates whether your phone is at an acceptable viewing angle by a green light in the corner of your screen. If the phone is angled too much, meaning your neck is angled too much as well, the light will turn red.

    The app tracks your posture over time and can give you a score so that you can look back with your physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist to see if you’re effectively altering your habits over time. It’s recommended your score doesn’t drop below 85%.

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