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"Text neck," the effects of prolonged head tilt on the cervical spine, is becoming a problem for an increasing number of both children and adults
Several years ago I noticed that the children who accompanied their parents to my office sat through the visit in a near fetal position playing their Nintendos. Next came the cell phones, and the kids would sit staring downwards texting their thumbs off. I commented to the parents at the time that cell phones would create the next syndrome, the way computers initially started a spike in carpal tunnel syndrome. I suggested we start the term, Texter's neck. Well, guess what? Medical specialists now use the term, "text neck" to describe the effects of prolonged head tilt on the cervical spine. By the way, it was not tremendous foresight on my part to suggest the name, because really, what else would you call it?
Here are some dry, but important facts. Research shows that tilting a head 15 degrees from neutral position adds 27 pounds of stress on the cervical spine and muscles. More tilt increases the force and strain on the neck. This can eventually cause degeneration of the cervical spine and discs. These degenerative changes can lead to neck pain, back pain, shoulder and wrist problems, jaw pain, headaches, and important postural changes that will be discussed shortly. One study showed that people often hold their breath or change their breathing while texting. This causes heightened stress, and can put extra burden on the neck and upper back muscles.
One study has shown that the more people use their phone, the less fit they are. I know we probably didn't need that study. It's hard to text while jogging. All this texting however, does lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. One study estimates that people spend almost three hours a day on their smart phones, and half of that is texting. The Journal of Behavioral Addictions indicates that these numbers are even higher, based on an online survey of college students. These are just the numbers based on phone usage. Imagine the time spent if we added other devices, like tablets.
So this prolonged time will greatly increase the risk of the above mentioned conditions. But wait, there's more. Author and posture specialist, Dr. Steven Weiniger, has stated that people who sit 8-12 hours a day over a number of years have a 91% increase in type 2 diabetes and mortality. Your risk of heart disease and arthritis goes up, even if you exercise.
Take a look around at the children and young adults today. Notice the head in front of the body, the shoulder rolled in, the overall slouch position-even when standing. One martial arts instructor we know, commented that the children in his classes are drastically less flexible than 20 years ago. I can report that many more adolescents and young adults that lie on my treatment table have developing humps in their thoracic spine. The clinical term for this is kyphosis.
Kyphosis is an exaggerated thoracic curve. Scoliosis is when a spine has lateral curves when viewed from behind. Why do I bring this up, you ask? Severe scoliosis can result in diminished lung and heart function. Severe kyphosis can limit the space in the chest and lead to the same problems. This is significant. We actually screen for scoliosis in schools. Scoliosis develops mostly between the ages of 9-13. It is estimated that 4% of children will develop scoliosis. This is enough to warrant major prevention screenings across the country. I think we will see higher numbers with regards to kyphosis in the near future. This is a BOLD prediction, but if you look around, it's not too hard to see.
There are some obvious corrections to be made, but getting the kids (or even adults) to follow through is another matter. I think if we talk to our children, ask them what they think they could do, we could make some headway. If they come up with solutions, they will be more likely to do them. Wives have been using this strategy on unsuspecting husbands forever.
Here is the payoff:
Talk with your children. Send me their suggestions, or plans of action. I will collect these and report them back to you. This could be enlightening, some will be hilarious, and hopefully very helpful.
Please share this with everyone you know that has kids. Otherwise, seriously, we are letting our kids hurt themselves. We need to help them!