Do you suffer from text neck?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In the age of technology in which we live, is text neck inevitable? Dr Andrew Martin of Active Backs says no.

Can you explain what's happening in the body as we crane the neck and head forward to look at our smartphone or tablet?
People are constantly looking down at whatever is in their hand instead of having their arms free and the head looking forward, which is putting a weight in the upper limbs and a load through the shoulders. And even though it’s a small load, over time the body adapts. We are seeing a lot of "smaller" repetitive strain injuries. This doesn’t happen all of a sudden, it's usually something that creeps in over a period of time. The head weighs ten to 12 pounds, but the load in the neck increases with each degree you move it forward. At a 15-degree forward tilt the head weighs 27 pounds and at 45 degrees about 49 pounds. So instead of using the muscles in the way that they are meant to be used, which is to shorten and lengthen with big movements, the body is constantly in this firm position and it lays down tougher types of tissue to give that static support. This then becomes a problem when you do some sort of movement such as putting your suitcase in the overhead locker and suddenly develop a shoulder injury.

We know that when you walk your arms swing, which makes the core work better. What about people who are looking at their phones and only swinging one arm?
Yes, well, usually what you find is they are holding their smartphone in one hand and the other hand is holding their bag so they are actually not doing any swinging. You end up with the thoracic spine becoming very rigid and stiff, which means more load going through the neck again. People that end up with niggles in their upper back and shoulders are like, “That’s just always there, it never seems to go,” and lot of the time it's because it’s been building up over many years.

Do you see a lot of clients like this?
Yes. The Text Neck syndrome is definitely prevalent nowadays.

Is there an age group that you see it happening in more frequently?
It's most typical of someone who has had a desk type job for about ten years. But more and more we are seeing this in students. There is an increased rate of it in younger people because it’s now standard to have an iPhone in your hand all the time. It can happen at any stage of life if someone has been doing the same, repetitive type movements for long enough.

What are the early indicators of text neck?
The first thing that people tend to experience is an achiness that will feel like a heaviness of the head or niggling in the neck or the top of the shoulders. And that achiness is the tissues telling you, “We are running out of oxygen and we need to move in order to pump new blood through the muscles and tissues.” What people don’t often realise is that the muscles can give you enough support for any position for about 20 to 30 minutes, but when it goes beyond that, that's when they start getting into a hypoxic state where the muscles are running out of the oxygen.

Is that why doctors are always recommending that you get up every 20 minutes and move around?
Yes, but it’s not just about moving around. You have to think about which areas have been working the hardest while you were sitting in that particular position. Should I just hunch up my shoulders, will that help? Yes, it will. Then let them come all the way down because that will help too. If it feels good, do it.

What is the worst-case scenario with text neck?
Worst-case scenario is where one of those really hardworking I-can-do-this-nothing-is-going-to-stop-me kind of characters ignore a niggle. But they let it go on for ages and ages and before you know it, the discs in the neck start to overload. And then because the muscles have done as much as they can do and they've become less elastic and less able to give you the active support that you need, there is more load and impact on the discs and the spongy cartilage cushioning in between the vertebrae. When they get overloaded you can get a creep of the squidgy stuff inside, then those bulges can start to push on the nerve roots and that’s where you get a thing called cervical radiculopathy. It’s where the nerves that run from the neck down into the arm get pinched. You can start losing reflexes and muscle strength in your arm. Even if you do develop those symptoms it is not the end of the world, you can still do things about it, but when you get nerves involved it’s always a long walk back.

In addition to stretching every 20 minutes, what other sort of practical things would you suggest?
Stretching, moving and drinking water is great. If you think about it in terms of the type of movement, say when we had the old-fashioned typewriters, the amplitude of movement for the keys was a lot bigger than they are now. But as machineries become more efficient, the amplitude of motion that we use is a lot less. That is one of the factors that can influence soft tissue injury. The bigger the movements that you make when you are typing the better. Also possibly trying one of the standing desks or sitting on a Swiss ball. Any variation in the environment will be great because it triggers different muscles to work, which gives different types of support. In addition to stretching, you also want to think about strengthening. Three times a week as a minimum it is good to do some form of strengthening work where you are actively building the muscle tissue. So whether that is doing Pilates or weight training, it needs to be something where you are encouraging the muscles to be used in a more dynamic way.

If you get one of these injuries, is there still hope?
One of the good things about a soft tissue injury, even when the tissues have gone through those stages of change to become quite leathery, is that you can still reverse some of those changes and get the tissues into healthier states. Oftentimes, people fall into this trap of thinking that the aches and pains they get is them getting older, and it isn't really. It's just their bodies telling them that they need to change their environment. Your body is designed to be healthy and to repair itself. 

Exercises To Do At Home

Shoulder Bridge
Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Raise the pelvis up toward the ceiling, pressing through the heels, squeezing the gluts to wake them up, and hold for ten seconds. Engage the core and lower with control. Repeat ten times.

Cat-Cow Stretch
Start on all fours with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips over knees. Exhale arching your back and then inhale letting the belly sink down. Do this a couple of times following your breath. (If there is any pain then obviously this is an exercise to avoid.)

Shoulder Shrugs and Ear to Shoulder
Simply hunch your shoulders up towards your ears and then pull them down away from your ears, this will bring movement through the upper traps and get your shoulder girdle moving more fluidly. Then bring the left ear down toward the left shoulder, all the while thinking about pulling the right ear away from the right shoulder. Then switch sides. Repeat five times each side.



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