Text Neck?

Tablets, laptops, desk tops, smartphones…it seems there is no escape from technology these days.  People walk around town staring avidly at their twitter feed, and it seems that just about everybody is plugged in to their music even while walking the dog or having coffee with friends.

It continues into the work place as well – even in my own clinic, I have taken myself away from paper records and keep everyone’s files on computer.  It drives me nuts most of the time, as I find it much harder to make notes on the computer than I used to when I was working with paper notes, but my decision was driven by a storage issue.  Little known fact: chiropractors are required by law to keep  all patient records for 7 years after a patient’s last appointment.  So you can imagine that the more-than-1500 files I currently have amassed in the last 9 years is only the tip of the iceberg, and that’s a lot of paper to find a safe storage place for!

But that’s not the point of why I bring this subject to your attention.  I am more interested from a professional point of view in how it is affecting us all physically.  There was a fascinating, though woefully brief, point made in The Daily Telegraph a while ago – an image was printed of  an x-ray taken in Australia by a chiropractor, showing how the top of a 7-year-old’s neck has developed a kink in it.  Now, that chiropractor is suggesting that this is due to the child spending so long on his smartphone.  I have no idea if that is truly the case, but it’s a seriously scary thought if it is true.  I mean, if a mere child of 7 has already got actual changes to the structure of his skeleton, what the heck is he going to be like when he’s twenty? Thirty? Sixty?!

In my own practice, I have come across cases of severe neck pain and headaches while people are at work, and it almost invariably links back to the posture that person  is adopting to work.  There are ways to minimise the effect of course; making sure you have a suitable chair and desk to work at, making sure that you take regular breaks and that your computer screen and keyboard are at the right height.  But that doesn’t work for smartphones and tablets – or even laptops, like the one I am typing on at this very moment. More worrying than that are the increasing number of teenage patients I am seeing who are unable to maintain good or correct posture because they spend so long time slumped and slouched while using screens.

I also somewhat facetiously commented to a couple of patients about how having their smartphone in their pocket may be starting to affect how they are walking, but there was a grain of true concern behind my joking.  As phones and tablets become more and more merged, with phones getting bigger and more powerful, we still try and force them into our pockets.  But they don’t flex, and there’s only so far they can move out of the way of your hip movement when you are walking, so surely before too long we are going to see the first case of someone ending up with a problem such as back pain because of the way their smartphone is “forcing” them to walk.

So what’s the answer? Honestly? I have no idea.  It seems the only real way to solve the overall problem is do that highly fashionable yet unpopular move of unplugging.  That’s not always possible, but if you minimise your screentime then you are at least making sure your body can cope better with the occasions when you do have to use it.  Also, think about your posture while you are using your device, trying to make sure you are maintaining as near perfect posture as possible by holding your device at a suitable height and angle.

Longer term though, I am seriously worried.  I can well see us crashing towards a continually ageing population, with posture more and more reminiscent of the old crones pictured in medieval tales; hunched over and barely able to lift their heads from looking at the floor, not to mention totally isolated from each other by our insistence on surrounding ourselves with the latest technology.