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. “The force is similar to having a small child on your neck,” says James Bickley, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
According to James, this disorder is most commonly seen in younger people, but can also be seen in middle-aged patients, as well.
“With smart phones becoming such a commonplace way of life, we are constantly looking down to text, scroll through social media and use the Internet,” he says. “This is causing increased stress to the thoracic and cervical spine, leading to pain and other related symptoms.”
With mobile phenomenon like Pokémon Go, people have been staring at their phones more than ever. Since these games require users to move around a lot, it’s helping kids get more exercise, but James warns this could lead to a higher frequency of text neck. “Consistently looking down is not good for your spine.”
Text neck is easily avoidable, and the best medicine is education. James tells all of his patients to simply alter their phone habits.
“I tell them to bring the phone to eye level when using it,” he says. “Small changes in posture throughout the day go a long way in preventing neck, back and shoulder pain due to our phones.”