Mobile phone neck pain is a growing concern, especially among teenagers and young adults, caused by long hours spent viewing a portable internet device while standing or seated using poor anatomical positioning. Mobile phone usage has become a primary pastime and the manner in which a person uses their phone can definitely influence their health for the worse.
Doctors are now seeing ever-increasing cases of neck tightness, neck pain, upper back pain, poor general posture, forward head posture, facial pain, blurred vision and other symptoms which have all been directly attributed to mobile phone use in the modern world. If the trend continues, text neck syndrome will soon become one of the most common reasons for young people to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
This essay details the problem of mobile phone neck pain and related symptomology. We will discuss why these painful expressions occur, the consequences they can cause and the best way to use your phone safely without causing yourself unnecessary pain.
Mobile Phone Neck Pain Mechanisms
Neck flexion describes the posture of looking downward by bringing the chin towards the center of the chest. This is the exact posture that most people assume when they use their mobile phone. The neck is not designed to be held in a flexed position for long periods of time, but it is not uncommon for some individuals to maintain this stressful position for hours at a time, day after day.
When the neck is flexed, the head hangs forward, and does not receive support over the centerline of the shoulders, as is normal. Therefore, the spinal muscles and surrounding major muscles must accommodate and support the very heavy head. Ligaments and tendons might also work overtime to keep the anatomy in alignment, even though the person purposefully places such a burden unsupported by the center mass of the body through their choice of position. Some areas of the neck become compressed due to soft tissues being stretched and interacting with each other to maintain an unnatural posture. The neck and upper back muscles will suffer fatigue and stress from maintaining this position and resuming it recurrently in a short time frame, as is commonly performed by mobile phone aficionados.
The spine is also bent forward, increasing some types of stress on the spinal joints, intervertebral discs and natural spinal curvatures, including the lordosis of the neck and the kyphosis of the upper back. As the muscular tissues suffer fatigue, they become less capable of holding the spinal segments securely and might contribute towards hyperflexion of the spine. The results of this chronic hyperflexion can spell disaster for many of the vital spinal structures, as detailed in the section below.
Neck Pain Consequences
Looking at one’s phone is not inherently harmful to the neck. However, spending long periods of time viewing the device in poor postural conditions is a sure way to create tension, as well as possibly causing such issues as muscular imbalances, RSI, forward head posture and terrible pain in the neck, upper back, ear, jaw and face. Let’s examine some of these effects in greater detail:
Neck tension, also called tightness or stiffness, describes a condition of resistance to movement. The person will feel uncomfortable when returning their neck to an upright position and will suffer a reduced range of motion. If they persist in calling upon the neck to continue to hyperflex for long periods, the condition will worsen and possibly degenerate to include the issues noted below.
Muscular imbalances can occur due to extended periods of recurrent neck flexion. The muscles of the neck, back and chest work in matched sets, called antagonistic pairs. When the neck is continually flexed and stressed in one way, some muscles will become very strong and tight, while others will become lax and weak. This is a possible cause of neck pain, as well as related pain in the upper back, shoulder, chest, throat and other symptoms, like functional deficits.
RSI, more often called repetitive strain injury, describes a syndrome where recurrent stresses accumulate and slowly degrade the structural integrity and functionality of the greater neck region. Effects can be produced in soft tissues and eventually in the spine itself, including the formation of arthritic changes, facet joint concerns, bulging and herniated discs and changes to the cervical lordosis and thoracic kyphosis.
Forward head posture can become a problem unto itself, being aesthetically unappealing and potentially quite painful. We detail this growing diagnosis in a dedicated essay and suggest reading it for a greater understanding of the condition as a whole and how it is directly related to mobile phone neck pain syndromes.
Pain can come from any of the above sources, as well as others. Besides suffering neck and upper back pain, patients might experience severe symptomology in the ear, throat, face, jaw, teeth and even in the eyes in uncommon circumstances. Headaches are a common consequence and we detail these types of scenarios in our essays on neck and head pain and cervicogenic headache problems.
Preventing Mobile Phone Neck Pain
Instead of focusing on treatment for text neck, which we have already discussed elsewhere, we intend to use the remainder of this discussion to present simple prevention tips that can stop pain from occurring in the first place and reverse minor symptoms that have already started:
First, it is a good lifestyle practice to live in the real world and not focus all of your attention on your mobile device. Besides having a more complete and rewarding experience, you will also reduce the risk of falling down, bumping into objects or people, infuriating those around you with your inattentiveness and getting hit by a car or motorcycle. The real world does not exist on social media or inside any game. The real world opens up to you when you put the mobile phone down…
Next, when using your device, try to hold it comfortably at eye level, rather than looking down at it. This simple fix can prevent nearly all the problems of recurrent neck flexion. Just do not get into the habit of stressing one arm more than the other or alternate forms of RSI can develop. Instead, switch hands, use virtual reality glasses when feasible or a simple device stand when practical. All of these solutions will help you to prevent neck pain and other problems associated with mobile phone use.
If none of these suggestions resonate with you and you insist on subjecting yourself to the possibility of pain, at least take breaks from your device often and take time to stretch your neck and upper body to mitigate the negative effects of static, stressful positioning.
If none of this essay makes any sense to you, then you just do not care enough about your health now to do anything good for yourself. Don’t worry, this will change, since this type of callous attitude is the exact reason why so many young people have terrible pain and once the misery starts, you will be back here re-reading and reconsidering your choices. That is for sure!