Essential Science: Overcoming 'text neck' with improved posture

Posted Apr 2, 2018 by Tim Sandle
Spinal surgeon Dr. Ken Hansraj has defined postural implications for humanity. In newly published research he describes the impact of text neck, backpack forces, and gender specific data on belly size, along with breast forces, on the spine.
Dr. Hansraj has expressed that people need to understand that a mere 15 degrees tilt with the spine will double the forces on the neck in what is known as text neck, a very modern condition. Text neck is a modern age term used to describe repeated stress injury and pain in the neck resulting from excessive watching or texting on hand held devices over a sustained period of time. An alternative term is the 'Turtle Neck' posture.
Text neck
The 'text neck' is of increasing concern, particularly with children given their greater propensity to mobile phone usage. In addition to neck pain, text neck can also lead to shoulder pain, upper back pain, headaches and increased thoracic kyphosis. Kyphosis is an abnormally excessive convex kyphotic curvature of the spine as it occurs in the cervical, thoracic and sacral regions. In the sense of a deformity, it is the pathological curving of the spine.
Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine  leads to incrementally increased stresses about the...
Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine, leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.
Dr. Ken Hansraj
Women and texting
According to Dr. Hansraj, women need to understand that a 20 degrees tilt will increase spine forces caused by breasts about one half more. His research, published in Surgical Technology International ("Breast Force on the Spine") indicates that typical woman with a 36D breast size experiences 28 pounds of force on the spine, and at 20 degrees forward the force becomes 40 pounds.
Best posture
The medical doctor, who is a spinal and orthopedic surgeon specializing in cervical, thoracic and lumbar procedures, provides some advice in relation to good posture in relation to ways of standing and sitting, especially when using modern technology. He defines good posture as "ears aligned with the shoulders and the "angel wings," or the shoulder blades, retracted. In proper alignment, spinal stress is diminished. It is the most efficient position to achieve the best posture possible."
A girl texting  in New York
A girl on a bike in New York, at the corner of Bowery and Delancy
Photo by moriza (CC BY 2.0)
He also demonstrates how correct posture leads to a taller appearance, deeper breathing, improved well-being and increased energy with enhanced performance. He also adds that many experts believe stooping and slouching could be associated with depression, weight gain, heartburn, migraines, anxiety and respiratory conditions. Examples come from the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry ("Upright posture improves affect and fatigue in people with depressive symptoms") and the paper "Spine sagittal parameter assessment in adolescent students - an online study tool."
Helping surgeons
Dr. Hansraj has conducted his research in order to assist surgeons around the world to address the issue of text neck. On his website he writes: "Billions of people are using cell phone devices on the planet, essentially in poor posture. The purpose of this study is to assess the forces incrementally seen by the cervical spine as the head is tilted forward, into worsening posture. This data is also necessary for cervical spine surgeons to understand in the reconstruction of the neck."
High school students
There is also practical advice for regular users of technology. People spend an average of two to four hours a day with their heads tilted over reading and texting on their smart phones and devices. Cumulatively this represents 700 to 1,400 hours a year of excess stresses seen around the cervical spine. Based on this, it is possible that a high school student today may spend an extra 5,000 hours in poor posture in the four years of high school.
Practical tips
The best advice, according to Dr. Hansraj, is to "keep your head up!" He adds, in communication to Digital Journal: "When you are on your smart device, just keep your head up!! Your eyeballs have a range of motion as well. Look down with your eyes and raise the device up a bit!!"
He explains further: "While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over. Good posture is when you bring your ears above your shoulders and open up your chest by retracting your angel wings = your scapula. Take home message: be mindful of where your head is in space."
Hence prevention is the key when it comes to text neck. Other things that people can do is to use voice recognition and make phone calls instead, plus taking regular breaks and alter their texting positions to avoid problems.
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we found out how surfers and others who like aquatic sports have been given a new problem to consider. New microbiological research indicates that surfers and body-boarders harbor higher levels of potentially dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts compared with non-surfers.
The week before we looked at the risks of a diet with too great a sodium content are well-documented. What has been less certain is whether a generally healthy diet can off-set consuming levels of sodium above recommended allowances. New research sheds light on this.