April 22, 2016
Text neck are the new buzzwords that have been seen in various news reports, and articles over the past few years. As technology has advanced, we are finding the population is spending more time immersed in their phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. When you watch someone use their phone or tablet, it is easy to see how they are looking down with flexion of the neck to view the screen. Computers and televisions also draw our gaze down, and/or our heads forward. These changes in posture (forward head, neck flexion) are what have caused the increasing problem of neck and upper back pain.
The cervical spine (neck) is supposed to have a normal lordotic curvature that we start to develop in infancy. This curvature helps to align our bones and distribute forces through the intervertebral disc (cushions between the bones) and the bones themselves. As we change our postures, we redistribute these forces, causing increased stress in specific areas of the neck. Prolonged stress to these specific areas can cause tissue changes, which can lead to loss of our normal neck curvature, and eventually pain. When these postures take place over a long period of time, our brains view this position as our ‘new normal’ and we start to sit or stand in the improper postures during other daily activities, which leads to worsening of symptoms.
So how do we fix it? Rebel against technology…? No, we need to be aware of our body’s positioning as we use our devices. This may mean bringing our phones up to eye level when reading or adjusting our computer screens and chairs to promote good posture. By the time most people start to experience symptoms, these changes have been taking place for a while, and it may cause increased soreness to sit or stand up straight with what is considered 'normal posture.' This is because your body and tissues have adapted to your ‘new posture’ and trying to go back to what is ‘normal’ may be putting stress on said tissues. This is where physical therapy can be extremely important. A physical therapist will assess your condition, and determine which tissues or joints are impaired. They will develop a program to target each structure, and guide you back to correct posture.
Below is a link to an article written by the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine. It has a great depiction of how the position of our head/neck can create increased forces on our spine.