Could you have ‘text neck’ syndrome?

Young adults are constantly connected to the mobile devices, even while walking. (Thinkstock photo)
Young adults are constantly connected to the mobile devices, even while walking. (Thinkstock photo)

Move over, "BlackBerry Thumb". There's a new tech-induced health hazard in town — "text neck" or "iNeck pain".

A term coined by U.S. chiropractor Dr Dean L. Fishman, "text neck" refers to an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury, where you have your head hung forward and down looking at your mobile electronic device for extended periods of time.

Indeed, as mobile technology becomes more widespread, people are spending more and more time with handheld devices like smartphones, e-readers and computer tablets. And "text neck", which can potentially affect millions worldwide, is a growing health concern.

Symptoms of "text neck"

When users are stuck in the unnatural posture of looking down for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to tightness across the shoulders, soreness in the neck and even chronic headaches.

Related video: Advice & tips for neck pain relief

That's because the more you crane your neck, the more weight it has to carry.

Dr Tan Kian Hian, director at the Pain Management Centre and consultant at the Department of Anaesthesiology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), explains: "When you lean your head forward away from its neutral position — when the ears and shoulders are aligned — by an inch, the weight of your head dramatically increases."

If left untreated, a 'text neck' can lead to the inflammation of the neck muscles, ligaments and nerves, permanent arthritic damage, as well as increased curvature in the spine. Tan adds: "This is very prevalent in our new generation of young adults who are constantly "connected" to their mobile devices, even while walking."

When your body is sending you a message

The good news is that there are ways to alleviate your muscular pain and discomfort before your condition gets worse.

Tan says: "It is possible to feel better just by making some changes to your daily posture and your lifestyle."

Here's what you can do:

  • Take frequent breaks: A "text neck" is a repetitive stress injury — it can be easily prevented by taking breaks from your mobile device every 15 minutes, looking up and bringing the neck back into the neutral position. Alternatively, hold your mobile device higher so that it's aligned with your eyes and your neck muscles are not so taxed.

  • Embrace posture-focused exercises: Do exercises like yoga and Pilates, which focus your attention on attaining the right posture. You will become more aware of the way you use your mobile devices in this way.

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When your iNeck pain has become too severe

Patients should seek medical attention if the above measures do not work. They may require a complete medical examination and if necessary, some investigations to find out what is wrong with their neck.

If there are no contraindications, some medications, such as muscle relaxants or a short course of anti-inflammatory agents, may be used to provide symptomatic relief, says Tan. In some patients, the degeneration may be severe and lead to compression of nerves in the neck. This may result in "nerve pain" which will require further investigations and specialised treatment.

Related article: Exercises you can do in your car

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This article was written by Jaclyn Lim for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Pain Management Centre at Singapore General Hospital.

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