On the Text Neck Syndrome: Symptoms, Prevention and Cure

MAJID KIRMANI

The text neck term is used to describe repeated stress injury and pain in the neck due to excessive use of mobiles, tablets or other handheld electronic gadgets for watching or texting for a long period of time. Text neck is also known as Turtle Neck posture. It is an alarming cause for neck pain especially in children using smart phones. Actually it is the wrong and prolonged posture that takes toll over your neck and shoulders.
The term Text neck was first used by Dr. DL Fishman a US chiropractor. As the overall mobile users is increasing all over the world, this syndrome is also taking toll on the population. This condition is a growing lifestyle and health condition affecting age groups from children to adults. Apart from neck pain, it can also cause shoulder pain, pain in scapular area, general headaches and increased thoracic curvature (kyphosis).
Symptoms of Text Neck:
The moment we bend our neck forward for using a smartphone, it directly affects our cervical spine. Bending our head forward to 15 degrees puts appropriately 27 pounds of force on our neck. When we bend our head to 30 degrees it puts force of 40 pounds on our neck. The more we bend our head forward, more is the amount of force exerted on our cervical spine thus making it more vulnerable to pain, weakness, stiffness and sprain. If unattended or ignored this can result in repetitive stress syndrome and greater damage to our neck muscles.
Stiff Neck:
Neck muscle fatigue and stiffness to cervical spine usually occurs after using a hand held gadget for prolonged period of time. Thus one cannot move his/her neck to sideways soon after using a smartphone.
Pain:
Pain can be restricted to neck region or can be diffused to scapular or interscapular area. The Pain intensity can vary from a dull aching to sharp stabbing pain. Sometimes this pain can be referred/radiated to shoulders and arms.
Muscle weakness:
Apart from pain and stiffness, text Neck can cause muscular weakness to neck and shoulder. Trapezius muscle is mostly affected and becomes weak and tender. Shoulder rotator muscles also become weak and tight.
Headache:
sub-occipital muscle tightness can lead to tension type headaches. The text neck syndrome can cause general headache or tension headache. Headache can also result due to tight muscles.
Abnormal thoracic spine curvature:
Excessive use of smartphones can also cause flattening of thoracic spine or increased kyphosis.
Early onset osteoarthritis :
Text neck can also Induce early onset of cervical spine osteoarthritis commonly known as cervical spondylosis.
Disc compression:
Compression of cervical spine intervertebral discs can also occur due to overuse of smartphones, which can cause nerve root irritation and nerve compression in neck.
Loss of lung capacity:
Even our lung functioning can be affected in text neck thus resulting in loss of lung capacity.
Management:
Prevention is the key when it comes to text neck syndrome. One should take following precautions while using a smartphone or any other handheld smart device:-
1. Avoid excessive usage of smartphones.
2. Take regular breaks while using any electronic handheld device.
3. Keep changing your postures while using such devices.
4. Position the device such that it puts minimum stress / force on your neck and shoulder muscles.
5. Avoid prolonged typing.
6. Avoid holding large or heavy devices in one hand for long duration.
7. Undergo a 2 to 4 weeks Physiotherapy treatment which includes mobilisation, manipulation, stretching and strengthening of muscles.
8. Do regular neck exercises like neck rotation and side bending.
9. Chin tuck exercises are very helpful.
10. Regular icing and moist heat can help to relieve pain and release tight muscles.
11. In chronic cases some steroids, NSAIDs can be prescribed.

— The author is a Physiotherapist at the District Hospital Baramulla. He can be reached at: majidkirmani@gmail.com