Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Reversing the Effects of Forward Head Syndrome

When it comes to communicating, shopping, reading the news, and even dating, smartphones beat just about every other device out there. In fact, the Pew Research Center shares that 77% of US adults own a smartphone which is over twice as many as were reported in 2011. While these digital devices offer convenience and accessibility to people, they are also proving to be the source of a problematic musculoskeletal condition that is affecting more and more people each year.

What is Text Neck?
Forward Head Syndrome, more commonly referred to as “text neck”, is the biomechanical phenomenon that occurs after prolonged periods of craning the neck forward past the shoulders and tilting the head down when using a smartphone (or another device like a laptop). Think about it - when you text, surf Facebook, check twitter, and so forth, are you holding the phone up in front of your face or down by your waist? It’s this seemingly harmless action that can have long-term effects on your body.

Researchers at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine found that the text neck posture can contribute to increased pressure on the spine as well as muscle strain and tension. How exactly? Based on the force of gravity and the average weight of the human head, they calculated the increase in pull on the spine as it compensates for the neck flexing and moving the center of mass forward.

At a 15° tilt forward, the head feels more like 27 lbs than its usual 10. At a 30° tilt forward that number grows to 40 lbs. And up to 60° angling down, the spine is fighting against a whopping 60 lbs of force.

What Does This Do to The Spine?
Experts believe that not only do your back and neck muscles have to work overtime to keep the spine stabilized and support the head, but the natural outward curve of the cervical spine (neck) can become compromised and degenerate faster.

Symptoms ranging from stiffness, pain, and pinched nerves can become commonplace in people with poor text neck postures. Symptoms may begin in the neck and back, but over time can cascade into issues with the hips, knees, and even your feet.

How Can You Reverse the Signs of Text Neck?
Luckily, you’re not doomed to a life of permanent spinal damage due to smartphone use. On the contrary, you can both reverse and prevent further damage with simple posture adjustments and minor lifestyle changes:

Soothe muscles - take care of the connective tissues like your muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are strained, pulled, and inflamed from text neck. Apply an ice pack daily to numb spasming nerve endings and reduce swelling, and then alternate with a heating pad that relaxes and loosens them back up.

Spinal manipulation/massage - trained and knowledgeable chiropractors or massage therapists can help provide adjustments and manual massage techniques to help realign the spine, knead damaged tissues, and relieve muscle tension.

Strengthening/stabilizing - dedicated stretching and strengthening exercises for your neck, back, and core can help you regain flexibility and strength in key muscle groups that reinforce good postures and spinal alignment. A neck brace you wear at night while you’re sleeping can also help stabilize your neck to relieve pressure on the spine and alleviate pain.

Proper phone use - altering the way you use your phone will make the biggest difference in reversing your text neck. Use a headset or speakerphone when talking on the phone, hold the phone in front of your face (not at your waist) when texting or browsing on it, make calls instead of texting, or use talk-to-text features to send messages instead of typing them out.

Update laptop use - if you work all day on a computer, make sure the screen or monitor you’re viewing is raised up enough so the top rim is level with your eyes; you may need to use an external monitor or monitor stand. And if you spend most of the day sitting at a desk, look into using a standing desk instead or alternating your frequent sitting time with regular movement, stretching, and neck rolls.

Years of poor text neck postures do have the potential to warrant surgery down the line to correct permanent spine deformities or damage. Don’t let smartphone use make you a victim. Practice smart body positions when using mobile devices!

This is a guest blog entry.

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