The Effect of Tech on Your Neck: What is Text Neck?

Dr. Lambros Lambrou Jul 23, 2019

A whopping 95 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone, and 79 percent of adults age 18 to 44 carry their phones around nearly all day. People text during school, work, errands and appointments. It's not uncommon for shoppers to bump into each other or block aisles because they're busy on their phones. They even whip out their cell phones at places where it was once considered rude to text, such as church and restaurants.

This constant use may trigger a painful condition known as text neck. An increasing number of patients visit us at Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine with symptoms of this tech-induced health concern.

Many patients are unfamiliar with text neck until we discuss the symptoms with them. That's why we've created a series of blog posts to help patients prevent, diagnose and treat text neck. Get the basics on this common condition below, and please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns about neck pain.

Causes of Text Neck

On average, American adults age 35 or older send 32 texts per day. That number jumps to 128 texts per day for adults age 18 to 24 and 75 texts per day for adults who are 25 to 34 years old.

These figures don't even include the number of emails, Facebook messages, Tweets and Snapchat selfies sent each day. Adults also spend plenty of time playing games, shopping online, browsing recipes and reading articles on their phones.

And phones aren't the only troublesome electronic device adults spend their time on. Tablets, Kindles, digital notebooks and smartwatches also cause health issues like text neck.

When we use these devices, we often bend down for extended periods of time. This puts constant pressure on our upper spines, including the areas around our neck and shoulder blades. Holding our heads in a downward position too long or too often can damage the spine's alignment because our heads are heavy. 

The average adult male’s head weighs approximately 7 percent of his total body weight. That means many of us are supporting heads that weigh at least 10 to 12 pounds. This may not sound like much, but a 12 pound head tilted at a 60-degree angle puts approximately 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.

Some adults do this on a daily basis - for hours. It's the equivalent of piling numerous cases of bottled water or gallons of milk on your head and letting them sit there. You probably wouldn't do that, but many adults won't think twice about spending all day on their phones.

Symptoms of Text Neck

Text neck strikes in different forms and can affect anyone who uses digital devices regularly, even children and teens. Some people experience mild aches or twinges while others battle excruciating pain.

Here are some symptoms associated with text neck:

  • Tenderness in the neck or shoulders
  • A burning sensation in the neck or shoulders
  • Tightness in your neck or shoulders, even when you aren't using a phone or similar device
  • Headache that worsens when you bend down
  • Tingling in your arms, hands or fingers
  • Spasms in your upper back or shoulders
  • Sharp pain in your neck or shoulders at the end of the day
  • Reduced mobility in your neck

It's important to remember that other health conditions can also cause these symptoms. Ask a member of our team if you need help pinpointing the cause of your neck or shoulder pain.

Text Neck Prognosis

Text neck can lead to acute flare-ups and chronic symptoms. Acute flare-ups are symptoms that quickly or unexpectedly appear but go away naturally. Chronic symptoms do not go away on their own and may range from mild to severe. You are not limited to one or the other; you can have chronic pain with acute flare-ups.

Sometimes mild cases of text neck disappear on their own, but many patients are stuck with symptoms until they seek treatment. In some cases, damage from text neck becomes permanent or requires surgical correction.

Treatment may range from at-home care to regular sessions with a physical therapist, chiropractor or other type of spine specialist. It's important to seek treatment before symptoms become severe. This may help prevent long-term issues.

Help! I Think I Have Text Neck

If you suspect you have text neck, don't panic. Start by limiting your screen time until you can see us. This may help reduce your symptoms until you begin treatment.

When you arrive for your initial appointment, our experienced team will thoroughly examine your upper back before making a diagnosis. If you have text neck, we will work to develop a treatment plan that fits your budget, schedule and recovery goals.

Don't let texting, Facebooking, or Instgraming permanently damage your spine. Contact us today for a free screening to help with your tech-induced symptoms. We have eight locations with convenient appointment times during the morning, afternoon and evening to meet your needs.