Whoever imagined that the day would come when "text neck" would become an actual medical diagnosis. Well, it is here. It is quite evident that the use and misuse of smart phones and tablets is becoming an ever growing trend. And despite what my mother may say, it is not just "these young kids". Smart phone and tablet use has been accepted by individuals of all ages and life styles.
In our last blog we discuss, at length, strategies to use to efficiently engage your "core muscles". We learned that focus on this muscle will help to provide direct stability to your trunk/spine. If you have not yet read our previous blog you can find the content on our website at norhislandpt.com/blog. I mention this because the neck and trunk are no different. Both use "core muscles" to stabilize against excessive mobility and compression.
As is the case in the lower spine, segmental muscles attach from vertebrae to vertebrae of the cervical spine to decrease forces that cause compression of the discs in the neck. Research shows that forward head positions associated with use of smart phones and tablets contribute to a tremendous increase in compression at the lower segments of the cervical spine. The diagram associated with this blog gives a great representation of the relative increase in the weight of the head, and increased force through each disc with forward tilt of the head as you look down toward your device. At 60 degrees of neck flexion, we are exerting 60 pounds of force on our discs! That's a heavy head!
As technology evolves, we have to evolve with it. Our smart phones and tablets are our connections to the social world, easy access to work emails, our source of news and entertainment, etc. No matter how you look at it, they are part of our lives. Lets learn to use them more appropriately.
- Maintain neutral alignment. Consider using a chin nod pattern when looking downward as opposed to hinging from the base of the neck. With this, your ears should always remain in line with your shoulders. As an exercise, think about performing a chin nod and rolling your neck into a slight bend.
- Elevate your device. Whether you are working with a desk top monitor or a tablet it is always best to raise your screen toward eye level. With this, I recommend using support to elevate your arms to remove your focus from your lap to slightly more in front of you. This will help to take stress away from neck and shoulder muscles as you no longer have to worry about holding your shoulders up. Your support will do that for you. When possible, let your body rest. We abuse and overuse it every day
- Stabilize your shoulder girdles. The shoulder bone is connected to the neck bone. It may be a children's song, but it is still very accurate! The shoulder and the neck are very closely related. We can not be stable through the neck without support from the shoulders. Now that your arms are supported with a pillow, or your briefcase (if commuting home on the train), focus on drawing back and down your shoulder blades. Ever so slightly tucking your shoulder blades toward your back pockets helps to maintain proper alignment of the upper trunk
Following these 3 simple principles can make an enormous difference in managing acute to chronic neck and shoulder pain. For any questions regarding this content please feel free to reach out to me via email at Robert@northislanpt.com. Also remember, North Island Physical Therapy offers free functional screens which gives you an opportunity to sit down with a therapist and discuss wellness related issues that you may be dealing with.