text neck

Addicted to your cellphone? Beware of text neck.

Dr. Ryan (Carter) Cassidy

Dr. R. Carter Cassidy

Written by Dr. R. Carter Cassidy, a spinal surgeon at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.

Is your neck hurting as you read this on your mobile device? You may have “text neck.”

Text neck is a developing trend in spine care. More and more providers are seeing young patients complaining of pain in the neck and upper back but who have no apparent injury.

Turns out, the problem may be in their pocket or purse.

We now have great data that shows cellphone usage, especially texting, can cause neck strain. A Swedish study followed more than 7,000 young adults for five years, uncovering an association between high-volume text messaging and persistent neck and upper back pain.

Why does text neck happen?

The main issue with smartphone use and neck pain is the angle at which the neck is held. The further forward the head is positioned, such as to look down at a phone, the more pressure that’s put on the intervertebral disk.

Over time, this can lead to pain and can strain the muscles in the back of the neck. What is not yet clear is whether or not this increased pressure will lead to earlier degeneration in young developing spines.

How can I prevent text neck?

Awareness that your phone use may be causing your pain is the first step in prevention.

Understand that holding your neck in a flexed position for a long time is going to cause pain. The best way to prevent problems is to keep the phone at a higher level so the neck is more neutral. Resting your arms while holding your phone may help prevent neck and arm strain.

What if my neck already hurts?

Simple things like ice, heat and rest are good for many musculoskeletal injuries and are totally worth a try for neck pain. Massage and some stretching can also be helpful. Ibuprofen or naproxen can also sometimes be useful for pain relief.

Of course, your medical provider should be consulted for persistent pain. Your provider can order physical therapy, discuss medications such as anti-inflammatories and muscle-relaxant medications, and make sure there are no signs of a pinched nerve from a disk herniation.


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