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What is Text Neck and What Can You Do About It?
By Daniel Casciato

As we become more dependent on our smartphones, we’re putting our necks in a harmful position known as text neck. Your head is flexed down, your shoulders are slightly rounded, and your back is slumped.

Text neck is a serious condition and one not to take lightly, according to Jocelyn Idema, D.O., of Washington, PA-based Advanced Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

“Everyone loves their smartphone but we are seeing more patients, particularly teenagers, complaining of text neck pain,” she says. “Your muscles in your neck are not strong enough to keep your head in that downward position for a long period of time. As a result, you will get muscle strain and pain in the back of your neck.”

The signs and symptoms of text neck may include:

  • Sharp neck pain while using a handheld device.
  • Shoulder pain and tightness.
  • Headaches that become worse when looking down.

“You need to either lift up or prop your smartphone or tablet, so you are not looking down all of the time,” says Dr. Idema. “If you are unable to do that, then take breaks. Every smart device has a timer on it. If you’ve been using your device for ten minutes, take a break and stretch your neck.”

Should the pain persist, then you will need to see a pain specialist such as Dr. Idema.

“We usually will start with physical therapy and do some stretching and strengthening—postural type of exercises,” she says. “If the pain is bad enough, we may recommend muscle relaxers. Usually with teenagers, we start with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen and we recommend behavioral changes.”

Behavioral changes are really the best cure for it, she adds. You have to recognize that your body has been in an inappropriate postural position for a long period of time—in a repetitive time period over days.

“Changing your ergonomic position would typically bring resolution to that pain,” says Dr. Idema. 

This issue is exacerbated among teenagers because they are the ones who are using their handheld devices the most.

“It’s their lifeline and how they choose to communicate nowadays,” says Dr. Idema. “It’s not just smartphones and tablets. Playing video games such as Fortnight or Overwatch may cause text neck. Many of these games are on handheld devices now.”

If you do not address this type of neck pain, it can cause further damage to your neck, shoulders or upper back.

“Muscles become used to their position,” says Dr. Idema. “Muscles that are set in a position for a long, repetitive period of time, some muscles will shorten and some will lengthen. The ones that shorten for text neck are the muscles in the front of your neck because you are looking down. The muscles will lengthen in the back of your neck. When there is imbalance between the two, that’s when problems will occur. Over an extended period of time, the normal, natural curvature of your neck can alter and can become difficult to return to its normal state.”

To relieve that dull, achy pain from text neck, some patients do fine with ice, but most do better with moist heat.

“We’re not talking about a heating pad but rather those bags of rice or bags of beans that you can throw in a microwave to warm up—once heated, they can get deep into the muscles,” says Dr. Idema. “Leave it on for about 20 minutes and then slowly begin to stretch your neck in the opposite direction and get the muscles warmed up.”

For more information, visit www.advancedorthopaedics.net.

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