By Dr. Adam J. Friedman – Coconut Creek, Florida – Many of my patients are coming in and complaining about neck pain. Many are also describing symptoms of tingling in their hands and assorted aches and pains in their shoulders and arms.
After my initial assessment, one of my first questions is to ask them how they use their phone. My follow-up question is usually, “do you use your phone a great deal?” And because everyone usually shrugs and says, “No more than usual,” I drill down with specifics – “do you use your cell for email, to check on social media, or for game playing?”
While the “lightbulb” may not flick on immediately for them, as a chiropractor, I am literally blinded by the light!
“Text neck” is the term used to describe the neck pain and damage sustained from looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other wireless devices too frequently and for too long. It is becoming increasingly common; a recent study shows that 79% of the population between the ages 18 and 44 have their cell phones with them almost all the time—with only 2 hours of their waking day spent without their cell phone on hand. There is almost a very painful, direct relationship as to what our ‘tech toys’ can do for us and how much we will ache. The more our phone or tablet can do, the more we are setting ourselves up for pain.
Unless we become smarter than technology.
And here is where I – and chiropractic – can help you.
The act of looking down and bending your neck does not occur only when texting. It’s just that with the advent of technology – and all that it can offer us – we are looking down for longer and longer periods of time. As a practitioner, I cannot help but be concerned for the younger generation who have literally grown up with their cell phones firmly clenched in their hands!
Patients tell me – almost every day – that as students, they always looked down to read books or take tests. They always read the newspaper or a book. What is so different about now? The simple truth is that before the impact of technology, we’d read, or study and then get out of the chair and go about our day. Now, we seem to be using the phone/tablet/computer for everything – both for work and for play. We are literally hanging our head nonstop.
Think of your last meeting where you quietly checked your email, wrote a quick text, or caught up on the news while setting assorted alarms and writing yourself “to-do” notes. I have one patient who begins her day checking the news online, then switches to her job as a freelance writer, and then relaxes by playing Words with Friends – all on her tablet and computer. She would then read on her e-reader at bedtime. It is not surprising that according to The Wireless Association, “texting statistics have increased astronomically. In June 2006 in the USA, there were 12.5 billion texts sent monthly. By June 2011, that number grew to 196.9 billion. Clearly, this problem isn’t going anywhere.”
Trust me, I love technology and I fully recognize that ditching our devices is not really an option. One of my patients told me that while she worked in an office and was always so aware of carpal tunnel issues, she really gave little or no thought to her neck. That is, of course, until she could not turn her head without hurting. This is a perfect example of where prevention can save you from pain and having to spend money.
It’s important to remember that if you are sitting in an upright position – one in which your ears are aligned with the center of your shoulders – your head exerts anywhere from 10-12 pounds of force through the muscles of your neck and shoulders. Studies have shown that moving one’s head forward by only one inch increases the weight of the head as much as six times. To give you a pretty painful visual, that is the same as carrying an average 8 year old or six ten pin bowling balls around your neck and on your shoulders!
Here are some of the signs and symptoms you may notice:
- Pain in your neck
- Pain radiating to one side of your neck, shoulder blade, or arm
- Numbness or tingling in your arm, hand, or fingers
- Weakness in your arm or hand
- Stiffness in your neck or difficulty lifting your head up after looking down for long periods of time
There are a variety of different treatments I may use including correcting your posture and specific exercises. I can show you how to counteract the increased stress and pressure on your neck with a variety of exercise, including cervical retraction, cervical extension and scapular stabilization exercises for postural control. And, yes, these are scary sounding, medical words – all of which I can demonstrate for you – safely and easily in an office visit. There are also a variety of therapeutic modalities that I can use such as ultrasound, heat and ice – but it is important that you understand that the problem is caused by increased mechanical forces to your neck. Unless we work together to modify these forces, therapeutic modalities are short-lived in effectiveness.
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Try to hold your cell phone at eye level as much as possible. This is true for all screens – laptops and tablets should be positioned so that you are looking at it at eye level. There are a variety of stands and device holders that may help you with this – anything that prevents you from bending your head forward or having you to look down to view it.
- Timing is everything! You should take frequent breaks from your laptop and your phone through the day. Use that device to set a timer – at least hourly – that reminds you to get up, stretch and if possible, walk around for a few minutes.
- If you work on a computer for 8 hours a day – either at home or in an office – make sure that your computer screen is set up so that you are looking directly forward. Your head should be positioned squarely in line with your shoulders and spine. Office ergonomics is no longer a new thing; ask for a modified workstation if you need one – and be sure to check out your at home set up.
It’s really very simple; you have to avoid looking down with your head forward for extended periods of time throughout the day. I encourage my patients to spend just one day being mindful of their posture – to ask themselves is their head bent forward when they drive or when they watch television. One patient told me that he suddenly realized that while he sat at a computer all day with an ergonomically correct screen, his problem was the keyboard. He was a self-taught typist – therefore he was always looking down at the keys – adding continued stress to a neck that was already suffering! While raising his keyboard was an effective and simple answer to the problem; identifying the need to raise the keyboard was paramount to his neck health.
I firmly believe in the prevention of disease; I also believe that no one should go through their day suffering in pain. To do nothing about your pain will only guarantee that it will get worse. Chiropractors can assess your posture, make specific personal adjustments, relieve the pain created by modern life as well as teach you how to prevent future occurrences. Call our Margate / Coconut Creek office to schedule a free consultation today!
Yours in Health!
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