According to a 2015 study, nearly two-thirds of American adults own a smartphone, and we’re spending more time than ever looking down at them. The new technology’s widespread use has led to the rise of a new disorder: “text neck.”
Text neck is exactly what it sounds like: a postural disorder resulting from spending too much time staring down at cellphones or other devices. It can result in neck pain, soreness, and pain in the back and shoulders.
Typically, when you hold your head straight, gravity only applies 10 to 12 pounds of force to the neck. But as the angle between the neck and the vertical plane increases, so does the amount of force. When you look down at your phone, your head is most likely at a 60-degree angle. At this angle, you’ll feel 60 pounds of force on your neck. “That’s like putting a little kid on your neck all day,” says Ashish Kakar, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
According to Ashish, the disorder is more common among young people, but he has seen symptoms in patients as old as 50. “Everybody has a cell phone,” he says. “Whether they’re texting or just scrolling through social media, they’re constantly looking down. What that’s doing, though, is adding increased stress on the cervical spine.”
With Pokémon Go emerging as a mobile phenomenon, people have been staring at their phones more than ever. Since the game requires users to move around a lot, it’s helping kids get more exercise, but Ashish warns this could lead to more symptoms of text neck. “The constant looking down is not good for them.”
Text neck is easily avoidable, and the best medicine is education. Ashish teaches a spine course at AAMC, and tells all of his patients to simply alter their phone habits. “I tell them to pick the phone up and bring it to eye level,” he says. “This is an easily preventable condition. There’s no need to suffer from pain in your neck, shoulders or back due to your phone.”