TRAVERSE CITY — Walk into any cafe and chances are you’ll find most patrons hunched over laptops, smartphones and tablets. They’re checking emails, sending text messages and posting photos — but they’re also hurting their necks.
“It’s really kind of scary,” said Ramona Pleva, a chiropractor with Northern Lights Chiropractic in Traverse City.
Pleva and other chiropractors are seeing more patients in their teens and 20s who are experiencing headaches, neck pain and tight shoulder muscles from constantly looking down at mobile devices.
Some call it text neck, others call it iHunch, but all agree that repeatedly bending your neck toward a screen isn’t healthy.
“They look like posture problems initially, but it has a traumatic effect on the nerve system as a whole, and that’s when it starts becoming systemic,” said Don Piché, a chiropractor with Traverse City’s Performance Chiropractic.
Some patients complain of pain or numbness in their arms and hands. Others are already developing degenerative conditions typically found in older people, like arthritis, nerve compression, bone spurs and forward head position, Pleva said.
“The weight of the head is about 12 pounds, so when you’re flexed forward at about 15 degrees, the 12 pounds becomes 27 pounds,” Pleva said.
The pressure increases the more one’s head is bent. At 30 degrees the weight is 40 pounds, 45 degrees is 49 pounds and 60 degrees is 60 pounds, she said.
“It’s scary when you think about teenagers starting to have degenerative changes in their neck and their neck starts to look like the neck of a 40- or 50-year-old,” Pleva said. “This does not bode well for them as they age.”
Pleva finished chiropractic school in June and started practicing in September. She has already seen patients in their teens with text neck symptoms, but she’s worried about children as young as toddlers increasingly using tablets and smartphones.
“There’s a new generation that’s starting this repetitive motion at a very, very early age when they really need to be looking upright and developing proper posture,” she said.
The easiest way to combat text neck is to bring your devices up to eye level so you’re not constantly flexing your neck, though it may take time for your body to get used to the healthier position, Pleva said.
She also recommends sleeping with your neck straight.
Piché, who has been practicing for 26 years, said text neck may be a new phenomenon, but it is one of many examples that show how important balance is to overall health.
“There’s a bigger picture here. We need to be paying attention to what we do day in and day out,” Piché said. “If you’re stuck in any position, whether it’s painting ceilings or texting, it’s not good for you.”