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the dangers of text neck and what to do about it

Lock down in the ACT has more of us working from home than ever.

At Canberra Spine Centre, we have seen an increase in upper back and neck pain complaints and more headaches than usual too.

As chiropractors, we see a greater number of our patients working from home, often with less than ideal ergonomic set ups.

This change in habit is likely to be the reason for a spike in ‘Text neck’ in our community.

Some of the common scenarios contributing to the stress include:

  • Multiple people working/schooling from home (children and adults) with only one study. This means that the dining room table is often utilised as a desk.
  • Not having proper ergonomic support. Most commonly, people are using laptops and looking down toward their laptop at a sharp angle.
  • With outdoor time limited, screen use is a way of passing time.
  • Increased device use to communicate with family/friends, as we often can’t do it in person.
  • With the dual role of work and home schooling, parents are having a hard time limiting their children’s screen time. While an increase in screen time is completely expected, the effects can be reduced by keeping an eye on posture and encourage as much other play time as possible.
  • Being exhausted at the end of the day and shutting down mentally by scrolling on the phones.

All of these activities and behaviours add up. And all result in more screen time than what we would typically have. At Canberra Spine Centre, we have a poster that shows the impact of your head looking down on your neck.

Check it out – you’ll be surprised at the impact!

How this happens

If we think of holding a glass of water in an outstretched arm, we can hold easily for a few seconds, but as the time ticks to past a minute, our arm is starting to shake. If we held the glass by our bodies, we could hold it for hours!

Your head weighs about the same as a bowling ball, and it sits on top of the neck – the most mobile part of your spine.

As your head moves forward and down, like when we look at our phones and laptops, the joints of the neck have much more load on them as our head is so proportionally much larger than our necks.

With this increased weight at the top, all of our neck muscles have to work much harder which results in tightness, neck pain, referral for headaches and over time increased degeneration of the spine.

Other consequences

You may have noticed some other symptoms from this poster which may come as a surprise.

Spinal disc compression and decrease in lumbar curve:

Our neck should have a lordotic curve – that is, a gentle forward curve that helps to dissipate and spread the load in the spine.

When our head is in that more forward position, this ideal curve is reversed and the forces on the muscles, ligaments, spinal cord and discs are greatly increased.

The increased pressure on the discs can cause a decrease in height and can cause the disc to bulge and herniate.

Chiropractors refer to this type of postural stress as ‘microtrauma’, as distinct from ‘macrotrauma’ (literally big trauma) such as a car accident or fall.

When the head is maintained in the forward posture, it compresses these discs and encourages the natural spinal curve to reverse.

As chiropractors, we see these changes over months and years as a result of poor posture.

This is also why we see an early onset of arthritis. With more pressure through your neck, your body adapts by laying down more bone.

This provides more support through those joints – it is an intelligent response by the body. However, more bone changes the shape of these vertebrae and the joints between them, causing a range of effects.

Some of these are: decreased space for the nerves to exit often leading to nerve damage, restricted range of motion and increased stiffness in these joints.

Decreased lung capacity

Decreased lung capacity is a consequence of years of poor posture.

With an upright spine, our chest should be able to expand to gain full lung capacity.

As our head shifts forward, our shoulders support this position by also dropping forward and hunching down.

This is the reason during our childhood we are forever told by parents to “stand up straight.” By the way, postural is controlled mainly unconsciously, via your nervous system.

The answer to improving posture is not by consciously thinking of ‘standing straight’, but working to improve your postural control mechanisms.

Decreased lung capacity leads to changes in oxygen levels, poor circulation and decreased neurological function – all of your nerve cells need oxygen to function optimally.

Decreased lung capacity is most strongly correlated with increased mortality because oxygen is essential to life.

Gastrointestinal problems

I love explaining this one. Have you seen a change with digestive problems with lockdown?

No, its not just because the fridge and pantry are closer to you. As that head comes froward it puts immense strain on our upper cervical spine.

Our cranial nerves are essential to some of our internal functions. One in particular, the vagus nerve, exits through the upper cervical spine before controlling the functions of the heart and gut.

Bloating, heartburn, reflux, indigestion, pain after eating, gassiness can all come from your vagus nerve incorrectly firing from neck strain.

Things you can do to help

Get your set up right

Getting your home ergonomic set up at its best is a great start. Wishing the lockdown away isn’t going to make your conditions change, so let’s be proactive in doing the best we can with our available resources.

Liaise with your workplace to take anything you can from your office to use at home until you go back to work. You may have a personalised mouse, keyboard, chair that is sitting there doing nothing.

Some of our clients have mentioned that items have been couriered to them. Others have been able to find a time where no one else is in the building to collect them.

Put shoe boxes or books underneath your laptop to raise it to eye level and get a portable keyboard while at home. Your eye level should fall between the top and middle of your screen, but the keyboard should still be at desk height.

Regular breaks

Taking regular breaks from your computer. Having a 2-3 minute break every 30-45 minutes is ideal.

Putting on a load of washing, doing some specific stretches, put on your favourite song and have a boogie!

Something quick that promotes blood flow and movement in your body. Then of course, having a walking lunch break to get out of the house and maximise the sunshine.

Get your spine in line

Get your spine checked by one of the chiropractors at Canberra Spine Centre.

Even doing as many right things as possible, your spine is still spending more than usual on screens. These pressures on the spinal cord and nerves will be relieved with an adjustment.

The other benefits of adjustment to restore proper motion of the spine include: easier movement, decrease in stiffness and tightness, better posture to improve lung capacity and decreased pressure through that vagus nerve.

This just the beginning of the benefits you will feel and notice.

As your spine and nervous system improves, improvements in body position sense, posture, balance, and brain function all help you to stay in good shape, function well, feel good and avoid injury.

Lastly, the major don’ts.

Please please please, don’t work on the couch or in your bed..

The head forward position becomes worse than what our poster can even show. Having your laptop literally on your lap means you are looking down at such a sharp angle its impossible to have a good head position.

The only position that trumps this is sitting upright in your bed. Both of these positions are the absolute worst. Avoid it!

If you are worried about your posture or text neck and you’re not sure what to do about it, please call us on (02) 6257 9400.

If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: www.spinecentre.com.au. Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post this month.

Tags: text neck


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