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Pain in the (Text) Neck

Mobile culture’s effect on our health

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Pain in the (Text) Neck

Technology has many of us looking down constantly. Unfortunately, this may result in chronic neck pain and back problems.

Never before in history have we looked down toward our feet with such frequency and duration. “Text neck” and other back problems are serious health concerns that result directly from continuously staring down with a flexed neck, curved spine, and rounded shoulders as we communicate and play games via mobile devices. >>

The hidden cost of mobile devices

People underestimate the extent of the detriment that holding and viewing mobile devices for even short lengths of time may cause to the musculoskeletal system. Unless we straighten up, take considerably more tech breaks, and teach our kids to do the same, we are setting up ourselves, and the next generation, for serious health issues that may be difficult to correct.

“Back and neck problems caused by mobile devices are absolutely happening in younger and younger clients every year,” says family chiropractor Alain Desaulniers. “Kids as young as four or five years of age may not be texting at that young age, but they are spending increasing amounts of time watching videos and playing games on those small screens, which is causing a multitude of physical ailments and discomfort.”

Desaulniers reports a significant increase in child patients seeking treatment for the same issues as their parents, including

  • pain in the neck and shoulders
  • numbness and tingling in the shoulders, arms, and hands
  • strained eyesight
  • difficulty breathing
  • asthma
  • headaches

Mobile culture

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) reports that there are nearly 27 million cell phone subscribers in Canada and, on average, Canadians send approximately 270 million text messages every day.

And, of all Canadians, the members of the younger generation seem to be the biggest tech culprits—a recent study showed that 13- to 17-year-olds sent nearly 3,340 texts per month, and 18- to 24-year-olds sent about 1,630 texts per month. It’s safe to say that we now exist in a mobile culture and it’s not likely to change soon.

Text neck

Text neck is caused by flexion, when a joint angle is decreased (as when the chin draws toward the chest to view a mobile screen).

A 2010 study of Canadian university students observed almost 93 percent of males and 90 percent of females with a flexed neck while texting on their mobile devices. A similar study found that most university students experience pain in at least one part of the body, and that heavy texters and gamers were at the highest risk for reporting pain in the hand, shoulder, or neck.

Destructive workout

Consider texting or video gaming akin to a workout, except that these particular workouts train the body’s joints to become misaligned.

When the neck is flexed, a network of muscles engages to hold the head in place. Since the average human head weighs 10 to 12 lb (4 to 5 kg), that’s like hanging a dumbbell around the neck.

“Just like someone who starts to study yoga or dance, body shape will shift and change in response to the new activity,” says Jennifer Doan, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and naturopathic physician.

Long-term effects

Long held positions tend to cause some muscles to become overstretched, and others to become overtight. The result is a muscle imbalance that chronically stresses the joints.

What’s happening at the deeper level is even more sinister. Since the skeleton provides the framework for the body, faulty alignment affects all of the soft structures it supports. Organs, nerves, blood, and lymph-carrying vessels all intertwine through the skeletal structures. Like a kinked hose, fluid and energy transport is affected, and nourishment and waste delivery is compromised.

Desaulniers refers to the “big four”—health effects that occur when proper spinal alignment and nervous system function is compromised. People feel sluggish and have digestive issues, poor sleep, and poor immunity. Head forward postures can also result in muscle pain, headaches, and even respiratory problems.

Posture perfect

Parents who observe their children’s poor posture while using devices must intervene during this sensitive formative period when bodies are growing and taking shape. “The best tip is often the hardest for parents to follow through with and that is to teach by example,” says Desaulniers.

Kids’ posture test

The wall posture test is a simple way for parents to keep an eye on children’s posture. The same test also serves as a simple and powerful exercise that kids can do on a regular basis to prevent imbalances and restore alignment.

  • Have your child stand with his or her back against a wall with feet hip width apart and heels about 5 in (13 cm) away from the wall.
  • Ask your child to contact the wall with three parts of his or her body: buttocks, upper back, and back of the head.
  • Observe your child’s profile from the side.
  • Do the back of the shoulders naturally connect with the wall?
  • Does the head contact the wall while the eyes remain facing straight ahead and the chin remains down?
  • Do the earlobes line up directly over the middle of the side of the shoulder?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child may be exhibiting the early stages of posture-related muscle imbalances that are pulling the skeletal system out of alignment. To restore alignment, have your child stand for one minute daily in this position to strengthen the muscles that have become overstretched and weak, and to stretch the muscles that have become shortened from too much gaming or texting.

Bone health

Doan points out the importance of calcium and magnesium, but cautions that what we get from our food and supplements needs to be good quality and in a bioavailable form. Furthermore, it needs to be absorbed via the digestive system.

A sore and stiff neck and achy upper back are common complaints today as communication by text and screen-based entertainment prevails. The ill health effects are more far reaching than just muscle and joint pain. People of all ages, especially children, need to straighten up and take a break from their virtual worlds.

Bone Boosters

Nutrient

Found in

Importance to bone health

folate

  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • okra
  • asparagus
  • bananas
  • melons
  • lemons
  • beans
  • mushrooms
  • low levels are associated with risk of osteoporotic fracture
  • high intake is associated with higher bone mineral density

calcium

  • dairy products
  • spinach
  • collards
  • turnips
  • kale
  • sardines
  • almonds
  • plays a critical role in maintaining structural integrity of the skeleton; 99 percent of total body calcium stores are found in bones and teeth

magnesium

  • Swiss chard
  • okra
  • pumpkin seeds
  • Brazil nuts
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • fish
  • deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporosis in postmenopausal women

phosphorous

  • fish
  • beans
  • edamame beans
  • pumpkin seeds
  • Brazil nuts
  • potatoes
  • mushrooms
  • garlic cloves
  • deficiency is associated with bone pain, fragile bones, stiff joints, decreased growth, and poor bone and tooth development

vitamin C

  • red, yellow, and green peppers
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • oranges
  • papaya
  • kiwi
  • guava
  • important for growth and repair of bones
  • may help reduce bone loss in men

vitamin D

  • eggs
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • fortified dairy products
  • sun exposure
  • has a beneficial effect on bone mineral density, especially when paired with calcium
  • deficiency has been associated with osteoporosis

vitamin K

  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • beans
  • eggs
  • strawberries
  • meat
  • low intake has been linked to low bone density and could contribute to osteoporosis and bone fractures
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