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New Mobile Technology Brings New Health Concern: "Text Neck"

Text Messaging and Repetitive Stress Injury

As desktop computers became more commonplace in work environments, physicians started noticing more and more cases of eye strain and shoulder tension from poor posture and repetitive movements. Today, technology has become smaller and more portable, so we are spending less time with devices such as phones and computers at a desk and more time with them in our hands and laps. As this causes the unnatural posture of looking down for extended periods of time, doctors are now seeing tightness and soreness in the neck muscles – a condition being coined as “text neck.”

Florida chiropractor Dean L. Fishman DC is credited with coining the phrase which is “an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury, where you have your head hung forward and down looking at your mobile device for extended periods of time," he explains. "This is a global epidemic not just from texting, but from using all sorts of wireless media."

Devices such as smartphones, iPads and other computer tablets, and Kindle E-readers are among the devices contributing to the pain. According to The Wireless Association, texting has increased from 12.5 billion per month in 2006 to 196.9 billion in June 2011.

While a person is texting or reading from an electronic device, the head, which weighs approximately 10-12 pounds, is often tilted forward and the neck muscles flex to bear the weight. For every inch the head is forward away from neutral, explains Dr. Fishman, the weight increases by 100%. So the more you crane your neck, the more weight it has to carry.

Symptoms of “text neck” include tightness across the shoulder, neck soreness and headaches. Long-term untreated pain can result in inflammation and permanent arthritic damage as well as increased curvature in the spine, especially in children who have a greater risk than adults because their heads are larger in relation to their body size.

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There have actually been studies recently conducted on what doctors used to call “forward head posture.” Researchers with Temple University evaluated 138 college students to see if there was a correlation between the number of text messages sent per day and pain in the upper body. Not surprisingly, those who sent more messages complained of greater discomfort.

A separate study at the University of Waterloo in Canada found that among students questioned, twice as many experienced pain in the shoulders and neck when they used their gadgets three hours or more per day.

As with other repetitive stress injuries, text neck can be prevented by taking frequent breaks and bringing the neck back to a neutral position. While texting or reading, try raising the mobile device upward so that it is aligned with your eyes to lessen the amount of time the neck muscles are flexed.

“We teach our patients to pull the shoulder blades back and down,” said Dr. Fishman. “In our research, we found the people who made the most improvement in the restoration in the curve of their neck came from people who made the biggest change and stopped hanging down low.”

American Public Health Association Meeting, “An Observational Analysis of Postures, Kinematics, and Mobile Phone Use Among College-Aged Individuals on a College Campus” presented by Judith Gold ScD
Berolo, S, Wells, R., and Amick, III B. Musculoskeletal symptoms among mobile hand-held device users and their relationship to device use: A preliminary study in a Canadian university population, Applied Ergonomics, 42(2):371-378 (January) 2011
The Text Neck ™ Institute - http://text-neck.com/

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