The Truth About Text Neck Syndrome

“The human head weighs 8 pounds!”

Remember that quote from the movie Jerry Maguire? 

In all actuality, the human head weighs closer to 12 pounds—and even then, that is only true when the neck is at neutral (i.e. looking straight ahead). So why does any of this matter?

Well, take a moment and look around. Everybody has their heads down! Texting. Sending emails. Browsing the internet. The ever-increasing access to technology, more specifically smart phones, has undoubtedly simplified our life. But it also comes with some major negative side-effects. And I’m not talking about cell phones, radiation, and cancer risks—that’s a whole different topic, and one, that I frankly don’t know enough (or really anything) about!

However, what I do want to discuss is the alarming amount of stresses that are impacted upon our cervical spine, ligaments, muscles, and nerves when you are flexing your neck down to use a smartphone. As mentioned above, the human head weighs 12 pounds at neutral, 27 pounds when flexed down 15 degrees, 40 pounds when flexed down 30 degrees, 49 pounds when flexed down 45 degrees, and 60 pounds when flexed 60 degrees! Think about that—60 pounds of force is more than a 5 gallon jug of water hanging from your neck! In fact, it would be a 5 gallon jug of water hanging from your neck…and then adding a car tire to that water jug. If you think like I do, that should freak you out. If you don’t think like I do, maybe you should consider the advice of Kenneth K. Hansraj, M.D., the Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine who recently published a short study entitled: “Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head.”

In the study, Dr. Hansraj discusses that “text-neck” (not to be confused with the similarly painful ailment, shoe-shine neck) has become a current epidemic and will have a more profound impact going forward. So what’s the end result if we stay flexed down and glued to our cell phones, creating a force of nearly 60 pounds of force on an area intended to withstand roughly 10-12 pounds of force? Well for starters, a whole lot of neck pain, which will keep physical therapists like me busy for a very, very long time. But just calling it neck pain is way too simplistic. It’s not only the neck pain, but rather, the constant stress, repetitive strain, and shearing against your vertebrae, muscles, ligaments that can lead to a loss of normal cervical spine curvature, increased laxity of ligaments, cervical disc herniations, nerve irritations, and changes in quality of muscle tissue—whether that be short and tight, in spasm, or the development of trigger points causing a referred pain to other areas of the body. Not to mention a progressive rounding of your thoracic spine with the shoulders rolling forward.

Here’s some insight, for much of the population, curvature of the upper back tends to increase with age…let’s not do anything to help it happen much quicker! In my next post, I’ll provide helpful hints on a safer way to use your phone and how to avoid neck pain from “text-neck”

These are just my “2 cents,” let’s hear yours.

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