Text Neck: The New Epidemic
By: Christa Sperry RMP, RYT-200
Thanks to people's need for all the fancy new gadgets and must-have tablets, phones, and laptops, combined with their working long hours at a desk where nothing is ergonomically designed, I will be in business as a massage therapist and Yoga teacher for a looooooooong time (THAT IS...if all these modern conveniences don’t destroy my body first). Having the world at your fingertips is empowering and exciting, but at the end of the day not only are you paying for this endless stream of info and entertainment with your dollars in monthly installments, you are also paying for it with your body and health minute by minute.
New studies show that screen time for many American adults now takes up more than ½ our waking hours, and it is climbing for children and teens too. An article published in the New York Post in April 2018 was addressing a study done regarding screen time and put it this way: “Assuming the average American gets eight hours of beauty rest a night, that means they spend six hours and 43 minutes a day looking at a screen, or 7,956 days of their life”. Read that last part again - 7,956 days (21.7 years) of our lives have now been devoted - willingly - to poor posture and a marked decrease in spinal and muscular health.
“Who cares”, we think, “what’s the big deal?”. Well, apart from spending approximately 21 years our lives staring into the abyss of a screen, perhaps not creating meaningful, real life connections, increasing our collective anxiety, all the while wasting our precious time (let’s be honest…how many of those 21 years do we spend looking at cats, checking social media, fighting imaginary people, keeping up with gossip sites, etc? Probably much more than we’d like to admit!), we are also quickly degrading our ability to function with comfort in our own bodies. Sleeping, walking, working, and playing all become increasingly difficult when we spend a majority of our waking lives with our heads hung down heavily as if ashamed, staring at our shoes.
What are the symptoms?
As with any repetitive or overuse injury, the symptoms of text neck sneak up slowly and then hit hard, making themselves at home in our bodies. These painful and nagging feelings become our ‘new normal’, we may blame it on age or see no connection to this deep discomfort and the way in which we spend a majority of our day. Perhaps we begin to take a daily dose of anti inflammatory medication to deal with it. How many of these symptoms do you feel in your body right now?
- Tightness or soreness across the shoulders
- Intermittent or chronic headaches
- Sharp pain or spasming in the upper back
- Numbness or pain down the arm
- Difficulty keeping the head upright and spine aligned
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you can relate to at least some of these feelings. I’m confident in this assumption because 95% of my clients experience the same symptoms to varying degrees. Even my clients in their late teens and early 20’s are already feeling the effects of text neck. This epidemic is more serious than it sounds as it can become chronic and possibly lead to early onset arthritis in the neck, increased kyphotic curvature of the spine, reduced lung capacity, spinal degeneration, carpal tunnel, and on and on...still think posture is no big deal?
How does it happen?
Like the name implies, text neck comes from the overwhelming amount of time spent with the head hanging down or jutting forward looking at a phone, tablet, or computer. This is not necessarily something new - it’s been happening to scribes, artists, seamstresses, and the like for generations. BUT the concern is that it is now happening to almost everyone and from an earlier age. Also, these people weren’t spending hours hunched over their work and THEN spending hours hunched over their phones. We are compounding the problem exponentially through our working time and our free time.
The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds. If we are keeping our heads up, we can manage this weight on our neck easily. However, when we are deep in a social media rabbit hole with our heads hanging down, we increase the pressure put on our necks up to 50-60 pounds! Multiply that by the amount of time we are in that position daily, and it’s easy to see how the stress and strain adds up, deteriorating our muscular and spinal health contributing to a whole host of long term issues.
What Can I Do?
Luckily, there are a few things that can be done to help alleviate and even reverse the symptoms of text neck. First of all, we can put our phones and tablets down. Spending less time staring at a screen engrossed in social media, cats, and online chatter, will not only be better for our physical bodies, but will also be better for our mind, mood, and outlook on life. Secondly, if we have a job that requires a lot of sitting at a computer, we can get up and move and stretch for a couple minutes every hour. Third, we can find ways to be more mindful and aware of our bodies. One way to do this is while standing up straight with shoulders down and back, we can have a friend apply a piece of KT Tape directly between the shoulder blades. This serves as gentle reminder everytime we slouch as we will begin to feel the pulling of the tape. We can also invest (or ask our bosses to invest) in ergonomically engineered chairs, desks, keyboards, etc.
Lastly (and probably the most enjoyable option with much farther reaching and comprehensive benefits), is to receive regular massage and/or make time in your week for a regular yoga class. Massage can do so much to help combat and manage the symptoms of text neck: freeing up movement through the neck and shoulders, decreasing pain and numbness down the arms, helping correct posture, and ultimately brightening your mood.
My goal is to encourage you to take a look at your posture and examine the way you spend your time on this beautiful planet - hopefully with your head held high, engaging with real people, doing all the things you love as pain free as possible. I love what I do and feel fortunate that I am able to serve people once they get on my massage table or yoga mat, but I am equally committed to empowering people to help themselves in between our one-on-one sessions. A little mindfulness, massage, and stretching can go a long way to ensure you are living your best life as pain free as possible!