Did you know that the average individual receives approximately fifty text messages per day? Or that on average we spend anywhere between two to four hours per day on our portable handheld electronic devices? Let’s face it, whether we’d like to admit it or not, most of us are glued to our cell phones, laptops, tablets and watches. While it might seem like it’s not a big deal, the physical posture we take on while staring at our tiny devices can have serious negative health effects.
TECH NECK/TEXT NECK
What the term actually means is forward head posture causing increased stress in the cervical spine (neck). Because of the overuse of smart phones and texting, people are looking down at their mobile devices for longer periods of time.
You wouldn't put a 60-pound weight on your neck every time you look at your phone -- but that's the force you're putting on your cervical spine when tilting your head down. If our ears line up with our shoulders, the average human head weighs about 10 pounds. Recent research suggests that the more we tilt our heads forward and down, the more gravity dramatically increases the weight felt by our necks. So for example if we tilt our heads 30 degrees forward to look at our screens, it is like making our necks lift 40 pounds. A 60-degree tilt is equivalent to 60 pounds of force on the cervical spine.
The symptoms one could experience from “Tech Neck” are vast. Neck pain, numbness, tingling and headaches are some of the most common issues that can arise. More serious long-term effects can also occur. Our cervical spines are shaped like a backwards C. This is called a lordosis. With sustained device usage there is potential for a loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine. Without the natural curve, a greater amount of stress is transferred through the neck. These stresses may lead to wear, tear and degeneration earlier than we’ve ever experienced in the past.
Our thumbs tend to do most of the scrolling or typing on our devices, which means they incur the most stress. While “Text Thumb” is not an official diagnosis, tendonitis certainly is. Tendonitis occurs when tendons become inflamed due to overuse and repetitive activity. To prevent this condition try using the voice recognition feature on your device rather than manually texting.
Overuse of our devices could also lead to sore, tired, burning eyes. Eyestrain occurs when our eyes get tired from intense use. A great tip is to use the 20-20-20 rule to prevent eyestrain from not only smartphones but from laptop usage as well. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. A decreased production of melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
To make sure electronics aren’t interrupting your sleep, give yourself at least 15-20 minutes of tech-free transition time before hitting the hay.
I am probably on my devices more than anyone else I know. I am constantly checking emails on my phone, creating content for Instagram, completing patient notes or looking up the weather. I can agree in saying that it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues. So what efforts can we make to deal with a digital world?
- Stretch your forearms: regularly stretch both the flexor and extensor muscles in order to prevent tightness and pain in the upper extremities. Stretching & movement also increases blood flow to muscles that have been in sustained positions for long periods of time.
- To counteract the forward posture (nicknamed as the “iposture”) we hold for long periods while on our devices try a cobra stretch. Lie on your stomach with your palms facing down and positioned right underneath your shoulders. Pushing down with your hands, lift your chest as you exhale. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds.
- Take frequent breaks: the bottom line is to avoid looking down with your head bent forward for extended periods throughout the day. Any prolonged period when your head is looking down is a time when you are putting excessive strain on your neck.
Micro-breaks allow our tissues to recover. Try to limit technology time to approximately 15 minutes. If you’ve been scrolling through Instagram and your fingers are tingling and your neck is burning.. it’s probably time to take a break!
- Use pain as a warning! When your hand starts to cramp or your neck begins to light up with pain, that’s just your body’s way of telling you to take it easy. And you should listen!
- If you are utilizing the above methods and are still noticing symptoms, then it’s time to seek professional help. Your qualified healthcare provider can help to identify issues that you may have overlooked.
By Dr. Mecca Fayad DC - Instagram: @drmeccafayad Email: firstname.lastname@example.org