Backing good posture: The curious phenomenon of 'Text neck'

Written by Nick Gaudio | January 16, 2015 | Print  |

The term "text neck" describes a physical condition that's caused by a person's poor posture as a result of habitually looking down at his or her cell phone. Though the term was originally penned by Dean Fishman, DC, it's recently picked up a good deal of public traction in the media as a result of a study conducted by Spinal and Orthopedic surgeon Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD.

Just what kind of traction? Well, just about every major news outlet in the world has published some version of the story, from CNN, the Today Show, The London Times, the Times of India, and in places like Iran to China.


The study basically demonstrated that, by tilting one's head forward, a person exerts added incremental stress to his or her cervical spine.

The greater the tilt, the greater the force, the study showed — an average adult head, weighing from 10 to 12 pounds, could end up weighing 40 pounds in force at a 30-degree tilt and up to 60 pounds in force at a 60-degree tilt.

For Dr. Hansraj's part, he said that the story's popularity is at least in part due to the fact that people are personally familiar with the problem.

"Text neck is really just a description of bad posture," he says. "Everybody knows back and neck pain is more common than the common cold. It's just becoming a greater problem with the greater use of texting."

Dr. Hansraj explains that the study, published by Surgical Technology International, came about as a result of a patient who is a close personal friend complaining of neck, leg and back pain.

After a discectomy surgery that was meant to correct the pain, the physician's friend — in his early 30s — still complained of both neck and back discomfort, while his leg pain went away.
The friend described his lifestyle to Dr. Hansraj and admitted to an addiction to an iPad video game — Angry Birds — which he spent about four hours a day playing with his head way down.

Then, the physician was onto something.

"We helped him with postural training," Dr. Hansraj says. "We told him looking down that long wasn't a good idea and the study sort of sprang from that."

Not so surprisingly, the patient's neck and back pain went away after that.

For another bit of alarming data, Dr. Hansraj extrapolated what these findings could mean for teens — a demographic known for their penchant to spend long hours on their cell phones.

"We looked at Pew data and found that teenagers could spend an average of 5,000 hours with bad posture just throughout their high school careers," Hansraj says.

"What will happen in the future if teenagers continue to have 5,000 hours of exposure to these excessive stresses?" he asks. "We could have a whole generation that's going to have neck pain, neck degeneration and possibly surgery in the future — that's a very valid scare."

The study's findings were really no surprise to Dr. Hansraj, who serves as Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine and has been an advocate for good posture for a long time.

Dr. Hansraj wrote a book called "Keys to An Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine" that, among other tips, backed the importance of posture and spinal mindfulness.

"This book gives people several strategies that they can take away every day without having to have spine surgeries in many cases," he says.

If you did decide to buy the e-Book version of the book and would like to, you know, look down to read it, Dr. Hansraj offers some advice: "You should always be cognizant of where you head is in space. Don't hunch over. Keep your ears above your shoulders. Open up your chest. Keep your angel wings back. Retract your scapula. Keep your phones and eBooks up and remember that your eyes have a great deal of range of motion. If you keep your head higher and your eyes lower, that can make a big difference."

In all, the study wasn't meant to be anti-phone, the physician explained, no more than it would be anti-dishwashing or anti-book-reading or anti-anything else that requires one's head to tilt downward. It was, in the end, all about posture.

"Posture is an important part of all this suffering we are seeing today," he said. "I want to help people help themselves before they need surgery — or even after they have surgery. Good posture is the king of all strategies for eliminating a lot of pain."

Better posture and mindful spine care will reduce healthcare spending, as well.

"Worldwide, there's $300 to $500 billion a year spent on spine care and that's partially because world citizens embrace poor posture," he said. "We don't come with a manual that says keep your head up."

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