Despite it’s incredibly modern name, Text Neck is nothing new. It describes pain and discomfort from having your head bent forwards for long periods of time – most commonly people now experience this from prolonged periods of looking at their tablet or smart phones.
There is a natural centre of gravity to our bodies – which should roughly be a straight line down from our ears, through our shoulders and hips to the ankle. When we bend our heads forwards, we take it away from this plumb line and change the forces acting on it. This then changes the way we need to contract our muscles to stop us from falling over every time we get a notification from facebook!
Over time, being in this position a lot can actually change the posture, or even structure of your body. The muscles on the front of the neck and chest can become tight and shortened – while the muscles at the back of the neck and in between your shoulder blades can become long, taught and weak, which often can be uncomfortable, or even painful.
This has been seen previously in people doing desk work, looking at the desk, then a typewriter, and then a computer, depending on their generation. There is a common misconception that our skeletons are fixed in their shape, but our bones actually adapt to what we like to use them for most. Living bone has a very high water content, and plastic, mouldable properties – not like the brittle preserved skeletons we see in the museum!
If we hold our necks in flexion (with our heads down, or leaning forward from the body) we can develop something called a fixed flexion deformity. While it sounds scary, it means that the joints at the bottom of our neck lose their ability to close over time, which can change the profile of your posture from the side. Postural changes like this can be one of the contributing factors to a non-pathological dowager’s hump.
If we must use our screens, it’s important to take regular breaks and do some neck mobility and stretching exercises to prevent pain and changes to our posture in the long run. While Text Neck may not be a new phenomenon, we certainly are seeing more patients like this in clinic; and perhaps with the increase in technology, we will see even more!