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Why your mobile could be a pain in the neck

Why your mobile could be a pain in the neck

Activities requiring prolonged forward bending of the neck are giving rise to a new condition
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

Spend lots of time with your favourite gadgets? Chances are you will become familiar with ‘text neck’ or ‘tech neck’ one day in the future.

To take a common example, while texting on the phone one tends to bend the head forward and look down. Now, this places about 22 to 27 kg of force on the neck, which cannot withstand such pressure for prolonged periods. The head weighs from 4.5 to 5.5kg.

“Text neck is posture formed by leaning forward for prolonged periods,” said Dr Umesh Srikantha, consultant, neurosurgery, head of spine services, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru. “It is caused by repetitive strain and possible injury to the cervical spine where excessive texting or mobile device use is believed to be the primary cause.”

The rising popularity of media devices such as smartphones and computers, frequent users often exhibit incorrect posture. “Such users bend forward to watch or text, leading to forward head posture (FHP), which is a poor habitual neck posture,” said Dr Roshan Kumar Jaiswal, senior orthopaedic surgeon, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Text neck symptoms

“The common symptoms of text neck are pain in the neck, upper back and shoulders, FHP and rounded shoulders (shoulder position that has moved forward from the body’s ideal alignment), tightness and reduced mobility in the neck, upper back and shoulders, eyestrain, headache and increased pain [caused by] neck flexion (movement of lowering chin down to the chest),” said Dr Srikantha.

“Text neck is a term coined by a chiropractor and is not officially included in the medical diagnosis classification,” said Dr Srikantha. “That doesn’t mean it’s not real. As of now, several terms like ‘postural neck pain’ or ‘chronic cervical strain’ or ‘cervical myofascial pain’ are used by medical practitioners to describe the same condition.”

Dr Jaiswal said text neck is not a disease but an occupational hazard that can occur due to several reasons or work-related activities which require prolonged forward bending of the neck.

Self-care: Text neck treatment

“One must use self-care measures to relieve neck pain by taking short breaks and performing exercises that target the neck, chest and upper-back muscles. Mild-to-moderate neck pain usually responds well to self-care within two or three weeks. If the pain persists, it is recommended to consult a doctor for further evaluation.

“Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs are usually recommended to get a better picture of the cause of your neck pain. Based on your condition, your doctor may prescribe medicines or suggest therapies and other surgical procedures,” said Dr Srikantha.

Pain relief is the main goal in acute cases, according to Dr Jaiswal. “It can be achieved by regular neck movements like rotations and side bending, restoring function to upper trapezius and serratus, chin-tuck exercises, ice or heat packs, and massage,” he said.

Upper trapezius is the smallest section of the trapezius (either of a pair of muscles moving the head and shoulder blade). It starts at the base of the neck and extends just across the tops of the shoulders. It helps to lift your arms, rotate, extend, turn and tilt your neck and head. Serratus is any of the three muscles of the thorax that arises from the ribs and vertebrae.

Text neck exercises

Dr Srikantha recommended a couple of neck-strengthening exercises to fix text neck. For example, one can place the feet on the ground and sit straight and relax the arms. “Put your right hand on your head and tilt your head on the right and hold it for 30 secs,” he said. “Follow the same using your left hand.

“In the same straight position, place two fingers on your chin. Tuck your chin and gently pull your head back. Use your fingers to keep your chin tucked to your chest. Hold it for a few seconds and relax. Repeat two to three sets, 10 times each.”

Dr Jaiswal said one can prevent text neck by avoiding excessive usage of media devices and taking frequent breaks while using the devices. “One should position the device in such a manner that it reduces stresses both on the head/neck and the upper extremities (upper arm, forearm and hand),” he said. “In order to avoid getting text neck, one should minimize high repetitions of movements such as prolonged typing or swiping, and not hold large or heavy devices in one hand for long duration.”

Dr Srikantha said while using the phone or working, people should bring the screen to eye level, so their head is not slouched forward or too high. And it is always good to take breaks and spend some time away from the phone and computer.

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