We are all aware that phones and technology have changed our daily interactions and how we gather information. But now, chiropractors have noticed that phone usage is also changing how our body functions, and it’s not looking up.
The repeated actions of looking down at our phones, bringing our hands closer together in order to type on mini keyboards, or remaining stationary at a work desk for extended hours, is compressing the spine and pulling the body into a crunch position. It’s creating long-term effects on our posture and has chiropractors very worried, especially since the habits seem unavoidable.
What is being referred to as “Text Neck,” involves the forward head posture, usually resulting from excessive strain on the spine from looking downward at any hand held mobile device.
“Consider the weight of the head like a large bowling ball, and all the muscles that run up the spine into the back of the skull are straining long term to try to hold that weight,” explained Dr. Christian Guenette, a holistic chiropractor in Kitsilano (Back2Health Chiropractic). “When a muscle gets tight it becomes more inefficient and ineffective, so your body will slowly get worse naturally by repeating the same stressful movement a hundred times a day, and ultimately good posture will be harder to do.”
But excessive cellphone usage is not only effecting us internally, but altering our physical appearance as well. A UK study mentions the aesthetically unappealing results of looking down at our devices, with the slightly altered name of “Tech Neck.” The study claims that the noticeable wrinkles forming around the neck is the outer result of our downturned heads. Be it in our cars on the way to work, at work or once at home in bed, it has become a natural impulse to look at our phones.
As explained by Dr. Guenette, the skin has both plastic and elastic components that should generally help it bounce back if it’s distorted or compressed. “However, if you hold that tissue in a distorted shape for a long period of time, you get a plastic change,” said Guenette. “The more often, or longer you hold, the more likely you are to get permanent structure change.”
Downtown Vancouver Chiropractor, Dr. Kilian, put it simply when he said that “any stress on the skin will create a wrinkle. Repeat the stress often… get more wrinkles.”
“Text Neck” is quickly becoming the new laugh line, something Kilian attributes to a society of people becoming “deconditioned” in today’s fast-paced, down-facing world. “Unfortunately, young people today start very early on computer and video games and are no longer outside playing and strengthening their body’s the way we used to,” said Kilian. “More deconditioning of the support system (muscles and bones) is lending to long term consequences such as premature degenerative and arthritic changes.”
Picture a ball of elastic bands, with the majority of the bunch in the middle and a solitary string protruding out of each side. This ball represents your stressed muscles, and while pulling at the elastic bands on the outer edges may ease pain momentarily (the action of stretching), the larger ball in the middle only grows tighter. According to Dr. Guenette, the help of an outside source is crucial.
“In order to target the tight spots you need somebody to actually touch on or bend that specific area of the muscle,” said Guenette. “My suggestion for maintaining good posture would be to counterbalance that movement with positive movement.”
- Try to bring the head and shoulders back in an exaggerated position.
- Exercise the muscles and connective tissues.
- Try to hold your cellphone at eye-level to avoid putting strain on the neck and spine.
- Stand taller and try to focus on elongating the spine.
It is unrealistic to assume that cellphone usage can be regulated, or assume that working at a desk for long hours is altogether unavoidable, and chiropractors seem to grasp that predicament. Therefore, it does not come down to elimination of an action, but the disciplined, and conscious effort of a positive adjustment to a regular routine in order to counterbalance the negative habits we have come to think of as natural.
Dr. Kilian recommends getting adjusted to help remove the stress that accumulates in the spine, and taking pressure off the spine and the nerves to allow the body to function, heal, and recreate better. “Second, bring the head back and tuck your chin, sit on the front of the chair on your bum bones, sit tall and engage the postural muscles,” said Kilian. “Remember, postural muscles are not the big muscles on the outside, they are the little muscles on the inside, so if you’re not using them, your losing them.”
He puts emphasis on practicing good posture everywhere, all day long. And finally, in agreement with Dr. Guenette, he suggests “raising the smart phone so that the head is not flexed forward.”
Dr. Ron Uppal of Holdom Chiropractic in Burnaby says it is most of our everyday habits, and not just cellphone usage, that is putting the extra, and consistent tension on the trapezius muscle. “Being on computers, watching TV, playing video games, all contribute to bad neck posture,” said Uppal. “If this persists, it can lead to arthritis in the neck joins into your upper back joints as well.”
In order to avoid morphing into hunchbacks with trenches of wrinkles weaving around our necks, Dr. Uppal says we should be making adjustments throughout the day, including chiropractic help when necessary. “Always work on contracting your muscles to keep great posture, one of the things that works well with chiropractic adjustments is practicing yoga,” offered Dr. Uppal.
Yet we march on through our everyday lives, oblivious to the noose of cords that tightens around our necks, our final battle cry not of freedom, but the bleep of another notification. It’s not over, it has only just begun, so try to keep your head up.
In the time of “Text Neck”