Text neck: How to avoid neck pain when using your mobile phone

We spend a lot of time on our mobile phones these days, sending texts, checking email, and accessing the web. Looking down at a phone for long periods of time can put added stress on the muscles in the neck, resulting in chronic pain known as text neck. Following a few simple tips can help you improve your posture and prevent pain and stiffness in your neck.

Your mobile phone may be causing your neck pain

On average, Americans spend almost three hours on their mobile devices each day, texting, playing games, checking email, watching movies, and accessing the internet. All of that time adds up to about 44 days per year.

When you look down at your mobile phone and tilt your head forward, it changes the natural curve of your neck and causes the muscles in your neck and back to become fatigued. In addition, your back becomes rounded and your shoulders roll inward. Over time, this can lead to the development of early osteoarthritis in the spine—a condition called text neck.

What is text neck?

Text neck is a repetitive stress injury caused by prolonged use of a mobile phone, tablet, or handheld electronic device. While text neck is not an official medical diagnosis, it refers to the symptoms a growing number of people experience due to overuse of their mobile devices.

The condition is associated with texting, but any activity you do a phone or tablet while looking downward, such as playing a game or responding to email, can result in poor posture and cause trauma to the soft tissues in the neck.

How does text neck cause pain?

A mild ache in the neck or upper back is often the first sign of text neck. In some cases, it causes a sharp pain or stiffness in the neck. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right.

Other symptoms of text neck include:

  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the arms

Left untreated, text neck can lead to more pain and reduced mobility in the neck, upper back, and shoulders.

More teens show signs of text neck pain

Text neck is of particular concern among teenagers and young adults whose spines are still developing. Doctors and chiropractors have seen an increase in neck pain and poor posture among young patients due to frequent use of mobile devices. Researchers continue to study the link between long-term neck pain and the overuse of mobile devices.

Tips to prevent text neck and relieve neck pain

1. Check your posture in a mirror. When you stand with good posture, you should be able to draw a vertical line from your ear to your shoulder.

2. Minimize the bend in your neck. Rather than looking down at your mobile phone, raise it to eye level and look forward. Avoid using a tablet on your lap, and instead prop it up with a pillow. This will reduce the stress on the muscles in your neck and upper back, causing less pain.

3. Limit your device use to 20-minute sessions. Keep text messages short on mobile devices and use a computer for longer messages. If you’re planning to have a long conversation, use the hands-free function on your phone.

4. Stretch your muscles. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to recommend exercises to improve your posture and strengthen your shoulders, neck, and back.

5. Take breaks. Pay attention to how much you use your phone. Remember to take breaks, and try using it for shorter periods of time.