A new cause for concern curated by our own devices, “text neck” is an ergonomic nightmare being faced by millions of people around the world who unconsciously participate in this spine straining habit. Stemming from our own inclination to do what feels comfortable, leaning our heads forward to look at our smartphones for time on end may result in a spinal strain that requires extensive therapy or even surgery to resolve. 

Some doctors are calling it an epidemic, which isn’t hard to believe, but what is it about gazing downward that puts our spine under such distress? 

The human head weighs roughly a dozen pounds, something that your spine is more than capable of handling, but as you lean it forward this begins to change. As you can see from the image above, a gradual increase in the angle of the neck downwards puts more and more strain on your spine. This can amount to an alarming 50lbs increase in weight being sprung upon your spine without noticing the damaging effects.

To put it in perspective, the additional weight being imposed upon the spine is equivalent to carrying a child in the 3rd grade around your neck for multiple hours a day. Doing this for roughly 1,000 hours per year as most people are nowadays is sure to cause an amount of long-lasting damage to the spine that could greatly interfere with daily life.

The people who are at the greatest risk however, are young people. Some experts estimate that the younger generation may be spending up to 5,000 hours per year in this compromising position. “The problem is profound in young people… with this excessive stress on the neck, we might see young people needing spine care” stated chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, Kenneth Hansraj. 

Other experts have compared the damaging effects of “text neck” to bending a finger all the way back and holding it there for about an hour. Tom DiAngelis, president of the American Physical Therapy Association‘s Private Practice Section states that “as you stretch the tissue for a long period of time, it gets sore, it gets inflamed,” he said. It can also cause muscle strain, pinched nerves, herniated disks, and, over time, it can even remove the neck’s natural curve. Comparisons like these with expert advice help to put into perspective the damaging effects of this new health concern, which can hopefully motivate people to change their ways. 

In addition to the physical deterioration people may suffer from, this bad habit can lead to other complications as well. Poor posture can reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent, lead to headaches and neurological issues, as well as depression and heart disease. With well over half of the population bending their necks at the mercy of their smartphones, shedding some light on this health concern and providing reasons as to why it is an issue is the first step in saving the next generation from a lifetime of spinal rehabilitation. 

So what can be done to avoid the problems associated with “text neck”? Here are a few tips: 

  • Make an effort to look at your phone with a neutral spine.
  • Look down at your phone with your eyes, no need to bend your neck.
  • Exercise: Moving your head from left to right several times, using resistance with your hands by pressing them against your head as you lean forward or backward, and standing in a doorway with your arms extended and pressing your chest forward are all great ways to strengthen the muscles of good posture. 

To sum things up, this is not a campaign to bash smartphones and give them a bad name, but rather a token of awareness for everyone to take and share amongst each other. It is important to be aware of how your neck is positioned when looking at your smartphone. Try not to fall victim to a falling head, and take action in avoiding “text neck” for the betterment of your spine and overall wellbeing.