Technology and their screens are, for most of us, a necessary evil but they are also addictive. Whether it is your computer screen at work, your smart phone or a television, screens are an everyday part of our lives. Add up how many minutes in the day you are glued to yours and you will be amazed and shocked!
Statistics show that 79% of the population between 18 to 44 years of age have their mobile phones with them for 22 hours a day.
With statistics like this coming out it is not surprising that the health care industry is seeing new problems associated with mobile devices. 'Text neck' describes the pain that occurs from looking down at mobile devices for too long.
As you repeatedly stretch the area, inflammation occurs and the muscles and ligaments are stretched and become stiff and tight, the joints become less mobile and nerves are irritated.
Common symptoms of text neck can include:
- Acute neck pain
- Upper back and shoulder pain
- Headaches (as a result of the tension in the upper back and neck)
- Posture and spinal curve changes
Here are some tips to ensure you prevent yourself from becoming one of the many getting 'Text Neck'!
1) Be Aware of your Posture: Hold your phone at eye level when you are standing and looking at it.
Are you reading this on your mobile device?
Does this sound familiar: your neck is dropped forward, upper back hunched, shoulders and arms in front of your body. This has a knock on effect to the rest of your spine.
There is no better time to start: so right now be aware of your posture and bring your phone up to eye level!
2) Get your neck and shoulders moving
Shoulder shrugs are great for improving the blood supply to the muscles.
Side bending: Hold onto the underneath of your chair with your left arm, keeping your feet flat on the floor, pull up with your left arm and bring your right hand over your left ear. Keeping your back straight, side-bend your neck to the right. You will feel a pull from the left shoulder up the left hand side of the neck. Hold for at least 20 seconds. Take a deep breath and then reinforce the stretch lightly with your right hand. Then repeat on the opposite side.
Rotate: sitting straight up in a chair, keep your body facing forward and turn your neck to the left. Hold where/when you feel a restriction, and focus on a point, take a deep breath in, on the outward breath see if you can turn your neck a little further.
Physical therapy, like osteopathy, can help restricted areas move freely again providing huge relief. It is hard to function properly with neck pain.
3) Bring your neck back in line with the rest of your spine.
Stand against a wall with your bottom and shoulders touching the wall. In this position the back of the neck should also touch the wall - if it doesn’t your head is being carried too far forward.
Bring a rolled up towel behind your head. Standing in front of a mirror pull your head backwards (you will create a double chin look, so may want to do this in private!)
Repeat 20 times daily.
4) Stretch your chest
For almost all clients their pectoral muscles (anterior chest) are short and tight, which pulls our shoulders forward. Lengthening these corrects our posture and is essential to counteract neck pain.
Remedy: Stand with your body straight in a doorway, close to a door frame (ideally in front of a mirror). Bring your left hand onto the doorframe at shoulder height, step forward with the left leg, which brings your body forward and creates a stretch across your anterior chest.
Hold for 20 seconds and then increase the stretch slightly. Then repeat on the right.
Try to do this stretch daily - we all need to!
** Please ensure your neck isn’t coming forward too much, and that your body is straight whilst you do this. If you have a history of lower back pain please take extra care, hold your core and come up off the heel of your back foot, to protect your back.
5) Release the tension
Lying on your back, with your knees bent up, feet hip-width apart, place two tennis balls underneath your upper shoulders. Lower your head and shoulders down. Lift your arms up straight, then move them in a straight line slowly down towards your knees. Make sure that your head remains on the floor or pillow at all times. Find the painful spots and use the pressure of the balls to massage these spots, repeat the arm action several times.
Pushing into the muscle fibres (inhibition) releases the golgi tendon organs, allowing your muscles to start functioning again as normal. The knots are where the fibres have become contracted and are no longer able to glide and release.
6) Core strength exercises
These are vital for perfect posture. Just as the neck being dragged forward, whilst we stare at our screens, has a knock on effect to the rest of the spine, if we lack core strength our spinal curves aren’t supported.
7) Use earphones
Use earphones to make phone calls rather than cradling your phone with your neck. Or try listening to music or a podcast as you walk rather than read as you go. (This advise comes with a warning: try to do so in a quiet place, turning earphones up to full volume to cancel out background noise negatively affects our hearing.)
8) Change your daily habit
For some setting an alarm (try every couple of hours) when they are allowed to look at their phone works. Most people, who have previously told me the world will end at work if they aren’t available every second, of the day are amazed by how much more productive this makes them!
Also remember that how your desk and computer are set up is still crucially important for spinal health, so please ensure this isn’t contributing to your pain.
9) Don’t try to do too much
We are asking a lot of our bodies carrying heavy weights, in the form of bags on one arm, whilst our neck sticks forward to check that vital social media update. This makes us vulnerable to injury - become aware of all your actions.
10) Make eye contact with people rather than your phone!
Being present in your surroundings is a form of nourishment that we are depriving ourselves of with our addiction to our phones.
You might miss meeting the love of your life - no email is as important as that!
We have always looked down to read, and our body has some capacity to cope and adapt but I am worried that we are yet to fully understand the long-term complications such postural changes may have. Studies suggest that this will lead to early onset arthritis and decreased lung capacity in some people. Poor posture also affects our general health and mood increasing feelings of stress and anxiety.
And for parents…
There is a lot of concern about the angle children's young and growing spines adopt whilst glued to screens.
Please monitor screen time carefully and always ensure your child isn’t slumped in an awkward posture for long periods. Children have increased flexibility compared to most adults but their vulnerability lies in picking up bad habits that become life long habits and as their bones are growing inflammation of the bone and cartilage can occur.
Phones are not the sole cause of neck pain. Always consult a doctor or osteopath if your pain isn’t quick to resolve and postural changes don’t seem to be reducing your pain.
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