People suffer all kinds of physical ailments. Neck and back pain is one of the more prominent problems many people complain about, with back pain getting the most attention. Yet, according to figures published in 2015, over 30 percent of people suffer from neck pain each year. 1 For some it is acute, but for others it is becoming a chronic condition. Why is there such an increase?

Many experts are looking towards a condition becoming more commonly known as “text neck”. The issue (and the phrase) began to gain attention in 2011 when chiropractors warned the public of this growing problem noticed among patients.

What is ‘Text Neck’?

Text neck caused when people keep their necks flexed for long periods of time. The condition is attributed to a looking down at devices too long. The position people use when texting is typically a down gaze which causes the neck to flex. While texting is one way people can become afflicted, really it’s constantly using any mobile gadget or even a traditional desktop if good posture is not practiced.

Man looking down texting
Credit: tookapic/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Dean L. Fishman, a chiropractor at the Text Neck Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida called it a “global epidemic” in 2011, so much that he trademarked the phrase “text neck” being 90 percent of his patients suffered from it. He also renamed his practice to reflect the condition. At the time he noted the billions of smartphones in the world and said this didn’t include other mobile devices.

“Go outside, to a restaurant, the supermarket, a gym, the airport and notice the posture of almost everyone around you. You will see this everywhere, and now multiply that by every city in the world,” Dr. Fishman said in October 2011. 2

If this was the situation in 2011, it's a pretty safe bet the problem has been growing since being that the number of mobile devices being used across the globe has significantly grown, even bypassing the number of humans living in the world.

person looking at iPhone
Credit: Dariusz Sankowski/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

How much time do you spend looking down at your phone each day?

Problems Associated With Text Neck

While people have looked down to read, write and do other activities, with mobile, people tend to look down more frequently and, for many, for long periods of time. Especially factoring in working from mobile or using social media – two activities people tend to spend a lot of time doing. This is not the posture the body is designed to use.

“Sit back and square your ears with your shoulders. The average head weighs approximately 10 pounds and your neck supports that weight. For every inch that your head is leaning forward due to gravitational forces, it's an additional 10 pounds,” writes Dr. Rashad Sanford in an article published NBC News in January 2016. “If a person is texting and their head is leaning two inches forward, then that means that their neck is now supporting 30 pounds!” 3

Consider many people also lean forward more than two inches.  Robert Bolash, MD a pain specialist at Cleveland Clinic, says that people who put their chins to their chests add about 60 pounds of force to their necks. 4

To gain perspective on this, a 2014 Washington Post report compares this to holding an 8-year-old child around your neck all day. 5

Symptoms and Relief of Text Neck

A huge concern with this activity is the natural curve of the neck reversing and creating other body ailments, including, but not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm and wrist pain
  • Reduced lung capacity
  • Neck and shoulder spasms
  • Potential for permanent arthritis
  • Degeneration of the neck

The poor posture associated with constantly looking down can cause severe stress on the body and spine. Anxiety and depression have also been linked to this problem. Awareness and proactive behavior are important.

  • Take breaks and allow the neck to sit in its natural position
  • Bring mobile gadgets up to eye level
  • Sit straight and use good ergonomics practices
  • Reposition mobile gadgets to avoid looking down
  • Engage in routine exercise
  • Stretch 10 to 15 minutes a day
cat stretching
Credit: Pandora_herself/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Stretching throughout the day on a routine basis can do a lot to alleviate neck, back and arm problems associated with using mobile devices and computers.

In addition, it’s important to maintain other good healthy practices such as drinking plenty of water and eating healthily.

Will Kids Grow Up With Neck Problems?

Another big concern worrying experts is the way children are starting mobile habits young and ending up with life-long chronic pain. Doctors and chiropractors have largely been reporting their patients are getting younger and younger. Some doctors have had patients under 10 years old developing serious posture problems and associated pain. These are conditions usually seen in middle-aged people.

Kids these days are enamored with technology and are growing up with mobile being a part of life, these habits will be hard to change unless effort and awareness is made. Adults tend to start developing arthritis in their late 40s, but with children developing poor posture and habits, Dr. Sandford feels they’ll begin to develop spinal arthritis in their late 20s and 30s.

Technology, along with being "connected" all the time, has made a lot of improvements in our lives, but it has also created some unanticipated problems. Texting can be a pain in the neck – literally. If you tend to use gadgets a lot and flex your neck for inordinate amounts of time, you might want to reconsider your habits and make some changes.

[ Related Reading: 'Sleep-Texting is on the Rise' ]

Child riding tricycle
Credit: EME/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Years ago kids spent a large amount of time outdoors playing and engaged in physical activity. Today, many kids and teens use tablets, hand-held video games, text or watch videos and TV shows on mobile gadgets. Doctors are seeing an alarming trend in their physical health due to "text neck". It's important for parents to help teach their kids techniques to avoid the problems associated with this condition.