Americans are attached to text messaging on their cell phones—and doctors are starting to see the painful results. The distinct posture often seen in texting is causing an overuse syndrome in avid users that’s been labeled “text neck.”

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Poor posture, like that which is seen in "text neck," can lead to neck strain and sprain.
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Tilting the head forward, as is typically done to view and create text messages, forces the neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments to strain to hold the head up.

See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

In recent years, physicians are seeing signs of premature degeneration of the spine in patients who are decades younger than would typically be expected. This type of wear-and-tear-related damage has generally been more common in older adults or those in occupations, such as dentistry and welding, that require keeping the head bent forward for extended periods of time.

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Impact on Growing Spines

There is special concern about the potential health impact on teenagers—among the most frequent text message users—whose spines are still developing.

The posture used in text messaging can lead to many types of issues, such as arthritic changes to the spine, bone spurs, and muscle deformity.

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Research in the journal Ergonomics points to text messaging being worse for the neck than even other common smartphone tasks. For instance, the angle of the head while texting was more extreme than for web browsing or watching a video. These activities were studied both while the subjects were standing and seated. Researchers found the most damaging position was text messaging while sitting.1

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Some other activities, such as reading a printed book or washing dishes, also prompt people to tilt their heads, but the difference with texting may be that people text or read texts on cell phones for a much longer time and are less likely to shift positions.

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Head’s Weight Magnified

The weight of the head is a key factor. The neck muscles are meant to support the weight of the head in a neutral position—10 to 12 pounds. However, many people look down at a 60-degree angle when texting on their phones, which places 60 pounds of force on their neck.2

See How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain

The neck was not built to withstand this amount of pressure over a prolonged period.

Watch: 3 Simple Ways to Indulge Your Spine

References:

  1. Lee S, Kang H, Shin G. Head flexion angle while using a smartphone. Ergonomics. 2015;58(2):220-226.
  2. Hansraj KK. Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head. Surgical Technology International. 2014;11(25):277-9.
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