By Doc Don Davis ..................
Please take a moment and look at the people on the street. The majority have their heads down and eyes locked on a smart phone. Oblivious to the outside world, elbows flexed, neck bent, friends ignored -- an ergonomic/postural disaster that’s putting the strangle hold on spines and nervous systems across the planet.
The numbers are truly staggering. With 7.3 billion cell phones (more than human beings) in the world, and 7 trillion text messages sent in 2011 alone, I think it’s safe to say, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”.
Many of us are aware that texting can cause injuries such as “Texting Thumb” or the 1,200+ people that wound up in emergency rooms last year from distractedly walking into signposts while texting. But a more insidious, and more pervasive, texting-related injury is “Text-Neck”--- caused by the mechanically challenging postures assumed when texting. The texting position is a disturbing combination of maximal neck flexion and arm flexion and chest flexion, a position akin to an 85 year-old shut-in rather than the posture of the younger, more active demographic of the typical cell phone user. Although seemingly benign and so commonplace, the texting posture comes with major repercussions.
Neutral Posture 60 Pounds of Force
In a recent study by K Hansrai, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, it was shown that the texting posture can add up to 60 pounds of pressure on the upper cervical spine depending on the degree of neck flexion.
When you combine this extreme load on the upper spine and neck with the reality that people can spend two to four hours per day in this position, it’s not a surprise that doctors are treating more and more “Texters” for back and neck pain. In one year, this 1,400 hours (Teens average about 110 texts/day) of neck stress will begin the process of inflammation, ligament elongation, postural deviation, decreased lung expansion and ultimately, spinal degeneration.
You can see by the severely tilted neck in these pictures that the strain is primarily focused on the neck and upper back, straining and shearing the neck joints. Neck flexion triggers neurological reflex reactions like upper-trunk contraction that leads to even more flexion, and low back inhibition resulting in weakness and instability. This causes muscle spasm, low back pain, difficulty concentrating, headache, decreased overall performance, and impaired balance leading to falls -- all of which are preventable and treatable.
Just imagine carrying a Labradoodle or a large River Otter on your neck for several hours a day!
Children’s necks are even more vulnerable to damage. Head-to-body ratio is much larger in children and their muscular strength is much less, increasing the stress and injury from texting. In addition, the bodies of children are still growing, and the trauma caused by these postures not only causes symptoms unusual in children, but can also permanently affect their developing spines. It’s increasingly common to see spinal x-rays of a 30 year-old showing degeneration and bone spurs seen more typically in a 50 year-old. This occurs without any history of accidents or trauma – their only misfortune is that of being raised in the techno-centric age of cell phones.
You’ve only got two options
- Prevention: Proper ergonomics.
- Try pulling in your elbow (the one holding the phone) and holding it with your other hand. This will raise the height of the phone several inches and take a load off of your neck.
- Point the eyes down but keep your head up in “neutral position”. The ears should be positioned over the shoulders, and the shoulders over the hips. That way, you are holding your head vertically. When the eye angle is declined, they also converge making it easier to focus on the object, but the longer they converge, eye strain increases.
- Do a series of postural isometric exercises that neutralize the texting effect, like tilting the head back and looking up. Or use an App like Yogeze during the day.
- Enjoy your real (as apposed to virtual) life. Put the cell phone down.
- Once the damage has begun, it’s time for action. That is when you need a structured, focused and intelligent plan to overcome your past transgressions. This must incorporate re-alignment of the bones of the neck so that balance returns. Chiropractic is the only real choice here and so it’s the best option.
- Re-form and re-train your natural neck curve by neuromuscular re-education. This is a series of exact exercises and stretches that allows the head to be balanced on top of the neck instead of pulling it forward.
- Soft tissue mobilization and deep directed vibration (DDV - Vibracusser) breaks up the adhesions of injured ligaments and nerves and stimulates the reflex circuitry in the spinal cord that control and inform the brain of optimal posture
Please let is know if you would like a complementary consult and exam by calling us at 805-646-9355 and see if you are a candidate for care.