Technology is great, but with each new development comes new problems for society to adapt to. One problem that has come to light in recent years is text neck, which is pain caused by too much hunching over a phone, tablet, or other device. Text neck can become serious if left untreated. Luckily, it’s usually easy to fix, especially if you start treatment early enough. In this post, we’ll explain what text neck is, list some of the most common symptoms, and how you can find relief.
What is text neck pain?
The term “text neck” describes the neck, upper back, or shoulder pain (or all three!) that can occur when using a mobile device, such as a cell phone or tablet. It typically can occur if you spend three or more hours a day bending over your devices. Despite the name, you don’t need to text a lot or even at all to suffer from text neck. Any time spent looking down at a device—or anything else, for that matter—can contribute to its development. This can include gaming, working through emails, or browsing social media.
But why does text neck happen at all?
The answer lies in the way your head and spine are constructed. Although the average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, the farther forward you bend it, the harder it becomes for your spine to support it. Depending on the angle you hold your head at while texting, you could be putting anywhere from 27 to 60 pounds of pressure on your spine!
Text neck can be quite painful, and its symptoms will get progressively worse if you do nothing.
This is true of all sufferers, but it is especially so for young people whose bodies are still developing. Cell phones are becoming more and more popular among children and teens. As a result, more and more children and teens are showing symptoms of text neck. Allowing text neck to go untreated in young people could lead to permanently altered posture or lifelong chronic pain.
Do I have text neck?
Neck pain is very common, especially among women. Harvard Medical School estimates that around 70% of people will suffer from neck pain at some point in their lives. This pain can have many sources, so how can you tell if your pain is caused by text neck or by something else?
First, review your phone habits. Do you find yourself constantly looking down to read and reply to texts? When you get bored, is your first response to reach for your phone? Do you often use apps to read or play games? If you spend hours a day staring at your phone or other devices, then there is a real possibility your neck pain stems from text neck.
The symptom most associated with text neck is pain in the upper back, neck, and shoulders, although the pain can spread all the way down to your fingers. You may also experience headaches. In addition, hunching over too much can lead to reduced lung capacity, since constantly rounding your shoulders forward leaves less room for your lungs to expand.
In extreme cases, text neck may lead to a herniated disc. This condition occurs when the cushioning layer, or disc, between two vertebrae suffers damage, forcing the vertebrae into direct contact with each other. The extra stress that you put on your spine by frequently tilting your head forward may, in rare cases, be enough to cause herniation. Symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Tingling in the affected area
- Muscle weakness
- Intense shooting pains
If you or someone you love is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action before symptoms worsen. The rest of this post outlines different text neck treatment options you can try to find relief.
How to fix text neck, 8 ways
Before you begin any treatment for text neck, be sure to consult with your doctor. They will examine you and point you towards the treatments that will work best for you. They will also confirm that your neck pain is not caused by something rarer and more dangerous than text neck.
There are many ways to ease neck pain, no matter the cause. Some treatments require consulting with numerous professionals, while other lifestyle changes can ease symptoms and provide relief with a few daily adjustments. Typically, your doctor will advise you to start with non-invasive therapies or lifestyle adjustments before jumping into more interventional approaches.
1. Change your habits
The first and most basic treatment to try is improving your texting habits.
Don’t worry—you won’t have to give up texting all together—but keep track of the amount of time you spend staring down at devices, and take regular breaks. Newer iOS phones have built-in trackers so you can see how much time you’re spending on your phone. Tracking apps also exist for both iOS and Android devices. These are easy to use and generally free, allowing you to chart how much you’re using your phone and when.
When you do use a device, try to keep it at roughly eye level so that you don’t have to bend forward to see the screen. Finally, check your posture regularly, even when you aren’t using your phone. Is your head tilted forward? Are your shoulders slumped? If so, you may wish to learn more about what good posture looks like and how you can achieve it.
These are small actions, but don’t underestimate how much they can do for your pain. As mentioned earlier, text neck is caused by bending forward too much. By being more conscious of your posture and texting habits, many of your text neck symptoms may clear up without further treatment.
2. Check out text neck apps and devices
While changing your habits is one of the most basic solutions for text neck, it won’t necessarily be easy. If you are used to moving or acting in a certain way, you might find yourself slipping back into old, bad habits in spite of your best intentions. This can be frustrating, especially if it happens over and over again.
Fortunately, although technology may create problems, it can aid in solving them as well. If you need a little extra help remembering not to hunch over your phone, a text neck app like Text Neck Indicator LITE will provide timely reminders to straighten up and hold your phone at eye level.
In addition to apps, there are other devices that you may find useful. Posture correctors, for example, are designed to prevent slouching and the pain that so often accompanies it. Amazon sells a variety of them, ranging in price from $15 to $28 as of this writing.
3. Practice text neck stretches and exercises
Text neck develops because you’re holding your head in the same stressful position for long periods of time. Moving your neck and shoulders around regularly can do wonders to ease stiffness and discomfort. One study even suggests that exercise and physical therapy are more effective in reducing neck pain than medication, both in the short term and the long term.
Before you start a new exercise routine, talk with your doctor to make sure that the exercises you have in mind are safe for you.
Once your physician gives you the go-ahead, these 35 stretches and exercises may be a good place to start. Set aside some time each day to slowly work through that list and figure out which stretches work best for you. Be careful not to spend too much time on these in the beginning, especially if you aren’t used to exercising that part of your body. It’s healthier and safer to build up to your desired exercise routine over time.
4. Get text neck massages
Massage is a popular method of pain relief, in part because it can be very effective and in part because it just feels good.
You don’t have to go out and pay for a masseuse to enjoy the benefits of a good massage, though. Self-massage is a quick and economical way to get pain relief. You can teach yourself some self-massage techniques and then use them whenever and wherever you feel the need!
If you do have the time, budget, and desire for a professional massage, there are several styles to choose from. Each of them has its pros and cons. Read up on the different types of massage and pick one that suits your needs.
5. Try chiropractic care for text neck pain
Chiropractors are trained to treat many back pain sources, from traumatic injuries to text neck. They will manipulate your spine into better alignment and provide advice on what you can do on your own to reduce neck and back pain.
As always, you’ll want to talk to your doctor before consulting a chiropractor, as it may not be a safe treatment option for everyone.
6. Physical therapy for text neck
Like we mentioned earlier, physical therapy can be extremely effective at providing long-term pain relief, more so than medication. Most reassuringly, it has a good track record of success in text neck cases.
A physical therapist will use multiple treatment methods to decrease or even eliminate neck pain. These methods may include exercises, heat/ice therapy, joint manipulation, guidance on changes to your daily routine, and many more. The exact treatments used will depend on you and your needs.
7. Consider TENS unit therapy for neck pain
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) units use low-level electrical pulses to eliminate pain. There is limited large-scale studies of its efficacy, but it also has a low risk of side effects.
If you’ve tried other treatments and they haven’t helped, talk to your doctor about TENS unit therapy and if it could work for you.
8. Talk to your doctor about neck pain injections and surgery
If you have tried all of the above treatment options and are still experiencing debilitating neck pain, it might be time to consider something more drastic. Injections or surgery may provide relief when more common treatments just aren’t enough.
If regular medications are insufficient to curb pain, your doctor may recommend injections, such as trigger point injections. These involve injecting anesthetics or steroids directly into the affected muscle. They are used to treat a variety of aches and pains, including neck pain.
Surgery is another treatment option to be aware of, although you more than likely won’t need it. One scenario that may require surgery is if your text neck has resulted in a severely herniated disc—though again, this happens only very rarely. While surgery isn’t often used as an initial treatment for herniated discs, it sometimes becomes necessary after other treatments fail to adequately address the pain.
Injections and surgery are a last resort, and the odds of your needing either of them are slim. Text neck is a very treatable condition, especially when caught early. Only in the most severe cases will you need to resort to interventional treatments.
Dealing with pain alone can be scary. Always talk openly to your doctor about the challenges you’re facing to see how they can help.
If you’re suffering from severe or long-lasting pain in your neck, it may be time to talk to a pain specialist. They will help you decide which treatment is right for you and develop a comprehensive pain management approach that helps you get back to your life. If you’re in Arizona, get in touch with one of our pain doctors today for more information!