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.

Core strength and stability

So, as anyone who has talked to me or read my website will know by now, I strongly feel that the risk of almost all back problems can be minimised if you have really good core strength and control.  There are a number of ways of going about gaining this level of fitness, but there are a few things to bear in mind.

You are always going to be better off going to a class, rather than trying to do it at home.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll need to practice at home as a once-a-week session simply isn’t going to get you where you want to be, but having a fully trained, qualified instructor telling you what to do and picking up any flaws in your technique is invaluable.

Second, this is not something you can just achieve, and then leave.  I speak from experience: if you try resting on your laurels thinking “oh yes, I have good core strength” and fail to continually work on your exercises, like any muscle they will simply weaken again in a suprisingly short time.  It’s a good idea, therefore, to build in core exercises to your daily routine so that it comes as naturally as brushing your teeth.  It doesn’t need to take that much longer than brushing your teeth, either, if you do it on a regular basis!

Finally, before embarking on any core strength training, speak with someone like myself (a chiropractor), an osteopath, a physiotherapist, a Pilates instructor or a yoga instructor to make sure there are no current problems that need addressing before you get into it.

All that being said, what is it you should be doing?

Well, I was going to write my own list of exercises, tips and advice…maybe even do some pics to demonstrate the exercises or at least link through to suitable websites that you can look at, yes?

Then, while looking for just such websites to link to, I came across this and decided that was actually a really rather good selection, well written and for the most part easy to follow! So read, digest, enjoy and get that core strength going!

Just a few caveats on this particular set of exercises.  I generally don’t recommend doing the “cobra stretch” that they have listed – it’s fine if your back is pretty healthy, but if you’ve had any problems in the past (which most people I talk to have had!) then it bends everything in all the wrong ways.

Similarly, they have included the “supine twist” and “supine twist on a physioball”.  Now, done very carefully and in complete control, this is OK.  But if it’s done too quickly or without enough support from your core muscles, you can end up putting far too much twist through your lower back.  Doing on the gym ball/physioball is actually better than doing it without, but I would suggest that unless you are very sure of your strength and very careful 100% of the time while you do it, just give this one a miss as well!

Otherwise, have fun!  Remember that core strength is something to continually work on, you are better at least occasionally attending a class, and the more variety you work in to your routine the better.


We all use them, but how often do you think about whether your mattress is right for you?  Or how much it can affect your life – both in terms of quality of sleep, and the potential for causing pain or other physical problems.

Most people are aware of how important posture is to your overall health.  If you’ve experienced a full day sat at a poorly set-up work station, and felt the aches and pains after you’ve been there, then it can quickly prompt you to change things so that the computer is the right position, your chair suits you or your desk is the right height.

But let’s take the average-Joe office worker.  Let’s say, they work a 9-5 day, Monday to Friday, with maybe an hour off for lunch in the middle of the day.  They have had the Occupational Health team in, so everything is set up in the optimum position.  That’s a total of 35 hours a week, supposedly sat in the right way, doing all the right things as far as their work will allow.  But they are still getting headaches. Or low back pain.  Or a stabbing pain through their chest every time they take a deep breath.

It’s entirely possible any of these problems are to do with their bed.  35 hours a week of being in the correct, well-supported posture is nothing when you consider an average 8-hours-a-night sleeping pattern means you are spending 56 hours a week in your bed, rarely getting up for a tea break, or to go and check the printer, or for lunch.  Just lying there, relatively still, in whatever position you fall asleep in.

Add to that how rarely most people renew their mattress and we start to see just how important the health of your bed can be.

But what sort of mattress should you be going for?  There are articles and studies and “expert” opinions all over the internet on this topic, but my personal opinion is this: whatever is comfortable for you.  Now, I add the caveat of “nothing too soft” to that – you do need a certain level of support from the surface you are sleeping on, so something that just lets you sink in to it is not going to be any good – but should you go for medium-firm? Hard? Memory foam? Pocket sprung? With a topper or without? It’s all down to personal preference, and sleeping position.

A few tips, though.  First, never test a mattress when you’re tired.  If you are about ready to drop, then you could fall asleep at a bus shelter and think it’s comfortable.  You need to be able to get a comfortable, good night’s sleep even when your mind is tending to overdrive, so if you think you could drop off on something even though you’re awake and ready to go, it’s probably going to be a good bet.

Second, make sure you give it a good long test run.  This is where buying over the internet can be harder – you have no idea what you’re getting until it arrives, and then many of us will settle for not-quite-right rather than get into the hassle of returning it, even if there is a money back guarantee in place.  Go to the store, kick your shoes off and settle in for long enough that you can be sure you are getting something which will be a lasting investment for you.

Finally, consider what position you normally sleep in.  If you are a side-sleeper, you are likely to want a slightly softer mattress than someone who sleeps on their back.  If you sleep one way but your partner sleeps another, consider a split-support mattress so that each of you has the level of comfort you need.