Text Neck

By Kim O’Leary

From an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to be standing upright, looking over the savanna for our prey or predators. Before this, as primates, we were designed to be in the jungle swinging between trees with traction forces elongating the spine and decompressing our discs. 

Enter today, we spend our time flexed and hunched over our iPad, iphone and laptop, flexing our spines and compressing our discs. This exhibits forces to the intervertebral discs’ extruding the contents backwards and over a prolonged period can cause compression to our nerves. This may lead to muscle spasm, pain and tension.  

Then enter the iPhone, which was released in 2004. We don’t have long term data on the accumulative effects of this but the change in our generational posture cannot be understated.

We are the first generation who will be faced with the consequences of being flexed for such long periods of time.

At best, it could cause muscle spasm and some postural pain. At worse, over a long period of time, it may triangulate our intervertebral discs. Possibly, even the bone matrix of our vertebrae could also be compressed at the front / anterior aspect and over a long period of time this could cause kyphosis or hunched postures of a generation of people in their middle ages’.

Flexing forward for a long period of time doesn’t only affect our spine, but all the surrounding musculature will also be affected. The ligaments are in a sustained stretch position which causes the nerve endings to begin to complain to us. The muscles around our spine are designed to be slow twitch fibres which allows great endurance. However, our maker never envisioned that we would sit hunched for 10 hours plus per day. This causes trigger points in the muscles, better known to the layperson as a knot. This can itself be painful and impinge the nerves that run through the soft tissue. 

Muscle imbalances can also occur. Our back muscles spend their day on a long stretch and the muscles at the front are constantly activated causing pain and soreness. 

We could all take up Pilates. Its forefather, Joseph Pilates, has his background in ballet dancing and ballet dancers have the most fantastic postures; ideally curved spines and amazing musculature. But can we realistically practice ballet three times a week and expect the muscle balances to equal out?

Perhaps we could all take up Irish folk dancing. They can stand bolt upright and flick their heels to their backsides with amazing ease.

‘Back in my day’, I heard our parents generation say we used to put books on our heads and balance them with our strength and postural muscles. Maybe this is the answer, maybe we should ask the current generation (Millennials) to put books on their head whilst they are texting and keep them there to ensure their posture is right.

I’m not sure that any of these will be the answer for an epidemic of text neck. What I would put forward is a series of exercises that you could complete once daily for 2 stickers from the teacher, once every other day for one sticker or once a week at the very least to keep you out of detention. 

  1. Firstly, you need a stable base for the neck to work from. This is where you would do; Pull backs/Pull Downs/ Prone flys and T’s, Y’s and L’s on the fitball to engage all the back muscles. Ask your PhysioPro to demonstrate.
  2. Secondly, you need to counteract the chin poke forward posture. Look at the people that need the strongest necks. Namely people under G forces – fighter pilots and F1 racers. The exercises that they do to protect themselves from their work postural stress could work for all of us. Theraband Cervical retraction is a great example.
  3. We then need to counteract the neck looking down posture with the opposite; Extension of the neck. Look up sustained for 5 seconds every few hours to relieve the accumulation of flexion stress.
  4. Trigger point development is another problem. Foam rolling and spikey ball relief will certainly help this.
  5. Stretches of the pectorals will help with muscle imbalances that occur from spending our life in a prolonged flexed posture.

I think if you follow these principals then you can expect to keep your neck happy, your spine ‘straight’ and your text neck at bay. 

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