Look around these days, and you'll find people, young and old, mesmerized by smartphones and computer screens. It seems that everyone is spending time looking down and tapping away at handheld devices.
If you are a tenacious texter or a savvy smartphone user, you may notice that your neck is starting to hurt while you are using your device. Why? It may be text neck.
Text neck is the newest term for pain in your neck that is caused by using a handheld device like a smartphone or small tablet. It occurs when you are keeping your neck in a forward flexed position for long hours while texting, internet surfing, or reading from your smartphone.1
If you are finding that your neck pain is getting worse as you use your handheld device, you may have text neck. You may also benefit from a course of physical therapy to manage your condition.Symptoms
Common symptoms of text neck include:2
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
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor or physical therapist to get started on the proper treatment.
Your doctor can also order special tests to determine the cause of your neck pain.
Text neck is typically caused by maintaining your neck in a severely forward flexed position while looking down using a smartphone. Often forward flexion angles of 60 degrees or more may be maintained while texting and using a smartphone.2
This posture maintained for hours on end can cause increased pressure in the intervertebral discs of your neck, and this can lead to bulging or herniated cervical discs and pain in your neck.1
If you are experiencing pain in your neck from text neck, your physical therapist can help offer the right treatment to help decrease your neck pain and improve your neck mobility.
Your physical therapist will take measurements of your neck range of motion (ROM) and arm strength and will analyze your posture.3 This can help your PT offer the best treatment for your specific condition.
Common treatments for text neck include:
Since text neck is caused by maintaining your neck in a forward flexed position, your physical therapist will likely teach you to attain and maintain proper posture. This can help take the stress off your neck and can help minimize your pain.4
A cervical roll may be used to maintain proper neck posture while lying down and sleeping.
Modification of Aggravating Factors
Since text neck is caused by flexing your head forward while using a handheld device, your PT will likely offer strategies to help you understand the cause-and-effect relationship between your smartphone usage positions and your pain.
They may instruct you to maintain an upright position while texting and simply look down with your eyes. Your PT may recommend special holders and devices to prop up your tablet while working to help keep your neck in a more neutral position.5
Maintaining your neck in a forward position while texting is likely causing your text neck, so your physical therapist will teach you exercises to counteract the increased stress and pressure that this causes.
Exercises for text neck may include:6
Scapular stabilization exercises for postural control
Your physical therapist may offer therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, heat, or ice for your text neck, but since your problem is caused by increased mechanical forces to your neck, these treatments will likely offer little or no lasting benefit.7
You must ultimately work to modify your head and body position while texting, and you must exercise to alter the forces acting on your neck while texting.5
Once you start physical therapy and work on managing your pain from text neck, you should notice that your symptoms resolve quite quickly. You should be free of neck pain within three to four weeks after starting physical therapy.7
One of the most important components of a physical therapy program is learning strategies to prevent future episodes of neck pain from text neck.
Your physical therapist should stress the importance of maintaining proper posture while texting and exercising regularly to keep your neck in the best possible position. They should also teach you what to do first if another episode of text neck pain occurs.
When to Seek Help
Sometimes, the pain and limited ROM in your neck may persist for weeks or months after initiating treatment for your text neck.2
However, there are certain signs and symptoms that may indicate a more serious neurological problem and warrant a visit to your doctor.
These may include:8
Acute weakness in your shoulder, arm, forearm, or hand
Significant loss of balance or difficulty walking (including a dragging gait)
Difficulty with fine motor tasks like writing or buttoning a button
Collapsing weakness of a limb
When it comes to neck problems, it is always best to err on the side of caution. So if you suspect something is not progressing as it should during your treatment for text neck, seek medical help right away.