Until about fifteen years ago, humans had never (repeat, NEVER!) spent minutes or hours at a time hunched over a tiny handheld communications device. Although hands are attached to arms, humans rarely lift these arms to bring this communication device closer to the eyes. In order for the visual organs to receive sensory input from this communications device, therefore, humans have adopted a posture that is brand new in evolutionary science (repeat, BRAND NEW!). Humans have read scrolls for thousands of years and books for hundreds of years, but a device of this miniscule size yet gargantuan human impact has been heretofore unimagined (repeat, UNIMAGINED!).
"Text Neck is not just a texting problem," says Dr. Dean Fishman. "Text neck is a gaming problem. Text neck is an e-mailing problem."
Fishman originally coined the term in 2008 while examining a 17-year-old patient. The teen came in complaining of headaches and neck pain. As Fishman was trying to explain to the patient's mother exactly what the problem was, he glanced over and saw her posture.
The teen was sitting in a chair, hunched over her smartphone, texting away.
"I knew I had something," Fishman says.
The average human head weighs 10 pounds in a neutral position -- when your ears are over your shoulders. For every inch you tilt your head forward, the pressure on your spine doubles. So if you're looking at a smartphone in your lap, your neck is holding up what feels like 20 or 30 pounds.
All that extra pressure puts a strain on your spine and can pull it out of alignment. Dr. Tom DiAngelis, president of the American Physical Therapy Association's Private Practice Section, compares it to bending your finger back all the way and holding it there for an hour.
"As you stretch the tissue for a long period of time, it gets sore, it gets inflamed," DiAngelis says. "The real question ... is 'What are the long term effects going to be?' "
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of seven and a half hours using "entertainment media" every day.
But it's not just kids. The average amount of data used on a smartphone tripled from 2010 to 2011, according to Cisco's Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update. And each tablet generates 3.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone.
Not only does forward head posture cause nerve pain, Collie says it can also create metabolic problems.
Try to take a deep breath in a slumped position. Now sit up straight and try again. Experts say slouching can reduce the capacity of your lungs by as much as 30%.
A lack of oxygenated blood flowing through the body can potentially lead to vascular disease. And gastrointestinal problems can be caused by pressure placed on the organs in a bad posture.
The American Chiropractic Association has compiled some helpful hints regarding proper smartphone use:
• Sit up straight with your chest out and your shoulders back.
• Bring your arms up in front of your eyes so that you don’t need to look down to see the screen.
• Tuck your chin into your chest to look down rather than dropping your head forward.
• If you must use your mobile device for lengthy typing, invest in an external keyboard.
• Rest your forearms on a pillow while typing to help minimize neck tension.
• Avoid using mobile devices while in bright sunlight. Straining to see the screen leads to jutting the chin for ward, shifting work from the spine to the muscles that hold up the head.
The best way to avoid text neck is to limit the use of your mobile device. If you need to send a longer e-mail, wait until you have access to a computer or consider calling the person rather than texting.
Stretches for Frequent Texters
• Hand stretch. Start with your hands in a fist and stretch your fingers out as wide as they’ll go and then return to a first. Shoot for about ten stretches with each hand. For added resistance you can stretch a rubber band around your fingers.
• Squeeze a stress ball. Do this for approximately 30 seconds for each hand.
• Chest stretch. To counteract the hunched posture of texting, stand up straight with your arms down at your sides. Turn your forearms until your thumbs are pointing at the wall behind you.