Could all that texting cause neck pain? Living in the contemporary digital age surely has its benefits. Our mobile handheld devices keep us connected, entertained, and safer than ever before. However, with all the advantages we gain from mobile technology comes the risk of serious and permanent health problems. Ever heard of ‘text-neck’? Today, widespread use of smartphones, blackberries and tablets has caused an epidemic of Anterior Head Syndrome, or loss of cervical structure. In a prolonged period of time, this may be the cause of many health issues such as frequent headaches, neck strain, and even reduced blood flow to the brain. Yikes!
The term, and the health condition, is derived from the onset of cervical spinal degeneration subsequent from the repeated stress of frequent forward head flexion while looking down at the screens of mobile devices. To make things worse, the condition is being seen in younger and younger generations due to the popularity of smartphones amongst younger age groups. Why is this an issue? Youth are in the midst of developing; their bodily structures are still forming, and having abnormal malformations of the spine could potentially have a negative influence on the mechanics of their skeletal structure as they age, and as a consequence disrupt nervous system function.
What is “Text-Neck” (or Anterior Head Syndrome)?
The neck, (also called the cervical spine) is a vital part of the human body which is often overlooked. It possesses a wide range of mobility in almost every direction, serves as a channel for major blood vessels to the brain, and more importantly, is the primary conduit of the Central Nervous System (CNS). A growing body of research is showing the importance of the structure and function of the cervical spine in relation to overall health and wellbeing.
The human body contains millions of sensory receptors that provide input into the central nervous system and allow it to control and coordinate all bodily functions. These receptors convert stimuli into electro-chemical energy that the nerves use to supply sensory information to the central nervous system. In other words, create nerve impulses that our body can interpret.
The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system, which plays a crucial role in in the health and homeostasis of the human body by transmitting and receiving billions of nerve impulses every single second. These nerves are shielded by the vertebral column, which consists of 24 small bones that fit together to form an “s” shape (pictured), with disks of jelly-like cartilage between them to help absorb shocks. This column of curves is designed to evenly distribute the weight of the human body throughout the spine without losing balance, or without placing extra pressure on the spine. This allows the spine to support more weight than if it were completely straight. If it occurs for this shape to become out of balance, the vertebrae are pushed out of alignment, which in turn places excess stress on the nerve pathways, and as a result impacts the nerve impulses being transmitted up and down the spine. Loss of spinal structure weakens important sensory input into the central nervous system.
The cervical spine in particular, supports the weight of the head, which generally speaking weighs between ten to fourteen pounds – about the same as a large bowling ball. When the spine is in its proper structure, the weight of the head is carried directly above the center of gravity, preventing it from pulling on the rest of the spinal column. However, recently more and more cases are being seen where the head is held in a forward position, causing it to put a stress load on the neck and more hazardously the rest of the spine. In a prolonged period of time, this may be the cause of many health issues. In addition, it can add up to thirty pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine. This specific loss of cervical structure is called Anterior Head Syndrome, and could result in the following:
- Flattening of the Spinal Curve
- Onset of Early Arthritis
- Spinal Degeneration
- Spinal Misalignment
- Disc Herniation
- Disc Compression
- Muscle Damage
- Nerve Damage
- Loss of Lung
- Volume Capacity
- Gastrointestinal Problems
What Causes Such a Severe Loss of Natural Curvature?
There are many traumatic and lifestyle factors affiliated to this condition, as the cervical spine is susceptible to various forces. From the birthing procedure to sports injuries to car accidents, repetitive micro-traumas may have a big impact the overall structure of the spine. However, how is it that this condition is being seen now more than ever before? Unfortunately, this can be associated with poor lifestyle habits, such as a sedentary job, poor posture, and even looking down at your phone! With the increase in popularity of handheld devices, more and more people are suffering the consequences of Anterior Head Syndrome, at a younger age too. Sedentary lifestyles do not help much either.
With all that being said, what can be done to prevent this condition from developing? Assuring we have proper set up and posture when we’re seated is a good start, however, sometimes not enough is the curvature loss has already begun. How can a chiropractor help? The philosophy behind chiropractic is founded on the premise that a properly functioning nervous system is the basis of health, and that the structural integrity of the spinal column must be maintained in order to simplify optimal nervous system transmission and communication. Stressors can cause misalignments in the spine – called subluxations – that cause interference with nerve impulses. With spinal degeneration and loss of curvature, our nervous system is not able to function at its optimal level. Nearly all spinal problems are caused by some type of mechanical or structural stress; therefore correcting these misalignments restores the body’s abilities to heal itself. Chiropractors detect or correct subluxations by adjusting the spine to reinstate its normal balance and function which allows the nervous system to send and receive information without interference. This allows the body to maximize its self-healing properties and correct its natural posture. As a result, many of the body’s systems will go back to running smoothly. When it comes to Anterior Head Syndrome, regular chiropractic adjustments can aid in gradually restoring the normal curve, and preventing its adverse effects from occurring.
Other Ways to Prevent Text-Neck
- Raise your phone. This might be a hard habit to break, but start raising your phone or tablet to eye level when texting to avoid straining the neck.
- Practice good posture. When not on your phone, stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Put the phone down. Disconnect every once and a while. Take breaks or change positions when texting. Answering e-mails or texts while laying down can help relieve pressure on the neck.
- Stay in Shape. Work on stretching and strengthening your back and shoulder muscles. The stronger and more flexible your neck, the more it will be able to handle stress.