It is an undeniable fact of the modern age that smartphones have made everyone’s lives a lot easier. These devices have almost become one of the basic needs that we humans cannot do without. However, one of the downsides to this hi-tech addiction is the effect on our health. It leads us to age prematurely. One such condition that is becoming increasingly common is referred to as “text neck”.
“A downward facing society” is a definition which is extremely suitable when describing the behavioral habits of today’s society. However, the habit of bending over to look at screens for prolonged periods of time can cause pain in the neck and shoulders.
America has been quick to coin a phrase that accurately describes the condition: “text neck”. Pirapat Ruchiwit, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital and resident expert on this issue, has the following advice regarding the safe use of smartphones to ensure that everyone in the digital era can avoid the text neck condition.
The term “text neck” was originally used in a research piece by Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, director of orthopedic surgery for spinal conditions at the New York Spine & Rehab Medicine Center. His work was published in the Surgical Technology International Journal and became a hugely popular news piece shortly afterwards.
His research revealed that the average adult’s head weighs between 4.5 to 5.5 kilograms and that our bodies naturally support this weight with the spinal column if the head is held straight. However, a mere 15-degree bend in the neck can mean that the muscles of the neck are required to work much harder. This leads to greater pressure, not only on those muscles in the neck, but also on the shoulders and top of the back.
During such movements, the neck ends up supporting 12 kilograms, which is double the weight of the head. When the average time of between 2 to 4 hours per day spent looking at our smartphones is taken into account, it means the spine and neck are required to take on this extra weight for between 700 to 1,400 hours per year.
Currently, huge numbers of school-aged children and working-aged adults who regularly use their smartphones throughout the day are experiencing chronic myofascial pain disorder, or “text neck”. Additionally, if the condition is not treated properly, it can lead to premature degenerative disc disease.
Dr. Pirapat provides additional information on the condition: “This group of symptoms are referred to in the medical profession as myofascial pain syndrome. They occur when muscle groups are required to work harder than usual, leading to contractions and tightness that then cause muscle pain.”
If those same muscle groups are not given any respite and are constantly being overworked, it can lead to chronic muscle contractions and muscle knots that pull at peripheral nerve endings, eventually leading to severe muscle pain that has the potential to spread to other muscle groups.
This also increases the risk of that person developing premature degenerative disc disease. Initially, the muscle pain will affect the neck’s nape, coming and going for short periods of time. However, if the muscles are exposed to prolonged and chronic contraction, it may spread to other areas, such as the eye sockets, head or chest.
In some cases, the patient’s pain will be so severe that merely turning their head becomes impossible. Such symptoms are often misconstrued as being due to other factors, for instance, migraines, stress or short sightedness, which mean that treatment is sought for the wrong disorder.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine Rangsit University, 2003.