I’ve been working with clients for years that spend 8 hours or more per day sitting at a desk looking at a computer screen which has its own consequences on posture –tight hip flexors, weak qlutes and backs, rounded shoulders, forward head. But as devices have become more mobile, the effects on posture, and specifically the neck, are worsening. Take a look around at people on their phones. Chances are they are looking down, and not just with their eyes, but bent at the neck. This phenomenon has become an epidemic and common enough to have earned its own name – text neck – which, as defined by The Text Neck Institute (can you believe there’s an actual institute???), is an “overuse syndrome involving the head, neck and shoulders, usually resulting from excessive strain on the spine from looking in a forward and downward position at any hand held mobile device.”
The average human head weighs about 10 pounds when the neck is in a neutral position. For every degree your head hangs forward and down, the force on your spine increases. The results of a study done by Dr. Ken Hansraj showed that “as the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.” That’s a lot to ask of the cervical spine.
Typical symptoms of text neck are headaches, upper back pain, shoulder pain and obviously, neck pain. Overtime, holding the head in this position will decrease the natural curve of the cervical spine and may lead to premature degeneration of the joints and discs or chronic conditions such as arthritis. This is especially concerning for growing children and could possibly cause permanent damage.
While it’s true that we have become increasingly dependent on our devices, all hope is not lost. One of the most important aspects of what I do as a Pilates-based movement teacher is educating my clients. Teaching them about how their bodies function from a movement standpoint empowers them to make changes that effect their quality of life. In the particular case of text neck, muscles in the front of the neck have become short and tight and those in the back of the neck have become long and weak. Addressing this imbalance through strengthening and stretching is key to reversing the problem and preventing long term damage.
Awareness is half the battle. If you can’t limit the time you spend with your technology, at least become aware of your position. Hold your device at eye level so your neck is not strained. And most important – get strong! By regularly exercising the muscles that keep you upright and neutral, the more aware you will become of your posture throughout the day.
This is a guest post from Tamara Wiper, owner of A Theory in Motion Pilates Studio in Irvine, CA. Tamara is a movement therapist and has been teaching Pilates-based movement for more than 15 years. She specializes in working with people with chronic conditions, pain and degenerative diseases.