Epidemic of ‘text neck’ threatens generation of smartphone users
ABU DHABI // Children as young as 10 are being treated for “text neck”, a pop-culture term coined to describe neck and back pain caused by excessive use of computers and hand-held devices.
“The worrying thing is that I am seeing it in younger and younger people,” said Dr Steve Marsland, a chiropractor at the Canadian Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m seeing more kids with posture-related problems, neckache, neck discomfort, which 10 years ago I never really saw.”
The symptoms – which can include aching in the neck, back, shoulders to tingling in the arms and headaches in more severe cases – arise from poor posture caused by craning one’s head forward for long periods of time, said Dr Marsland.
The unnatural position causes what he described as “micro traumas” that build up over long periods of texting, gaming or surfing the web.
“It is a cumulative thing that strains the muscles, it pulls on ligaments and causes stress on the ligaments and that then leads to the pain,” said Dr Marsland, who added that research has shown that for every inch that the head tilts forward from its normal position, it doubles in weight.
“So if your head’s an inch forward, it’s like two bowling balls worth of strain that your muscles and ligaments in your neck are having to deal with and that’s where this problem comes from.”
Srividhya Iyer, head of physiotherapy and rehabilitation unit at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said neck pain is not new.
“But it’s affecting a population that’s much, much younger,” said Ms Iyer. “Basically, we have degenerative changes, which happen to your neck and there’s like flattening of the spine, disk bulges and these happen as part of a normal ageing process, a degenerative process. But what’s happening with text neck is that it seems to be because of us using our computers, mobile phones, apps, games, whatever you have, and bending in a forward position. And a lot of the younger age group is being affected by it.”
Treatment to alleviate the symptoms varies according to the severity of the injuries, but can include hot and cold presses, electrical stimulation and massage. But, most importantly, there needs to be a “lifestyle adaptation” and rehabilitation through exercise to strengthen muscles around the neck, said Ms Iyer.
“Your cranium weighs about three kilos on average and that entire weight is borne by the neck muscles,” said Ms Iyer. “So these muscles need to be strengthened, and then overall your trunk muscles also need to be strong enough so they can support the body. You also have to look at the posture and how your core muscles are.”
Dr Hussein Matlik, consultant paediatric neurologist at Burjeel Hospital, it is not realistic to ask children to stop using electronic devices.
“But you can correct their positions,” said Dr Matlik. “To avoid this problem, we can adopt a proper posture by having the computer at an angle that does not require you to bend your neck much. Get a tablet case that props up your device at a comfortable viewing angle.”
More physical exercise and less screen time are also key to prevention, the doctors said.
“If you’re sitting for eight hours a day, you need 60 minutes of exercise to counteract the effects of that,” said Ms Iyer. “So, I would tell youngsters the same thing. If you want to get rid of the ill effects of having a sedentary lifestyle, get physical activity. I know it’s difficult, but try to use less of your phone.”
The Al Mawakeb Schools in Dubai recently conducted an awareness campaign to address neck muscle stress caused by excessive use of gadgets.
Students learnt about the best practices in using hand-held devices and the importance of physical activities in preventing neck stress.
Dr Matlik suggested hand-held devices like mobile phones and tablets should come with a health warning.
“I saw one 10-year-old, actually, and I could say that he is addicted to the computer. He is spending most of his time on the computer. He told me that he felt like an electricity line and that is typically from bending too much forward and putting stress on his neck muscles because of the improper position,” said Dr Matlik. “You know, this has a lot of side effects. I think the manufacturers should give at least advice how to use it or issue a time limit.”
Updated: October 30, 2016 04:00 AM