Some conditions once had an air of nobility about them. Gout was painful but there was solace in suffering “the disease of kings.” Suffering a bout of tennis elbow or runner’s knee at least implied you were active. Today’s newer syndromes have labels like text claw or text neck. You may be surprised to learn that text neck can come from a weight of up to 60 pounds hanging from it. You may be astounded at that and wonder just how much a human head weighs.
You might be suffering from a bout of text neck and not make the connection to the cause. You have pain in the neck and shoulders, you might think you’re slouching in your chair too much. That could be the problem, sure, and it certainly doesn’t help, but if you are using your phone to text a lot and look down while you do it, that could be the cause as well.
Text neck comes from the awkward position of hanging the head from the neck to look at our smartphones. It is more common in children and teens because that age group is looking at their devices a lot more often. Some of them seem to be looking down all the time.
Doctors are warning that looking down all the time like that can cause permanent injury to your spine. This is especially true for younger people whose bodies are still growing and forming. Physicians are beginning to increased spine curvature in children and teens.
A slight tilt of the head, say fifteen degrees, can more than double the head’s weight on the neck. More common angles of thirty to sixty degrees can put more than five times the usual stress on the spine.
The upper limit places a weight equal to that of an average third grader around your neck. Imagine doing that for very long and you will see how hard the neck is working, and understand why you might have some pain from it.
It’s not just teens that suffer from it. Up to 60% of adults spend hundreds of hours per year in the thirty degree or worse position. It may not be all at once, but just think of how many times in a day you check your email, send a text, or quickly look up something on the web using your smartphone or tablet.
Let’s look at the figures to better understand how much stress we put on our necks with our need to feel constantly connected.
The human head weighs on average 11 pounds.
I’m sure you’re dying to know that about 3 pounds of that is the brain.
When someone looks down at a 15 degree angle, it puts 27 pounds of pressure on the neck.
Increase that to a 30 degree angle and you’re putting 40 pounds of stress on your spine. Go 45 or 60 degrees, per the photos below, and your neck is holding up about 49 and 60 pounds, respectively.
What Can You Do?
It may seem that there is no way around this. We have to be connected. Our bosses, teachers, coaches, and family at the very least expect to be able to reach us whenever they want to find us. The smartphone is in our hands, which is pretty much always at a lower level than our eyes. We can hold up the smartphone, sure, but that opens us up to glare reflecting off the screen. That is sure to be bad for our eyes plus makes it hard to read. Not only that, but someone standing near us could see what we’re reading. So, that’s a solution for when you are at home, indoors and pretty much alone, but even then it is going to be a little awkward to type a text back from that position.
You can, however, look down with your eyes without bending your head. It takes a little practice, but you can do that for reading and for typing back a text. You may still have to lift up the device a little bit, but it does not have to be anywhere near eye level.
We can try our best to raise up our smartphones or to lower our eyes only, but we will probably forget, being in a hurry or simply forgetting because that’s what we humans do. This is why doctors are suggesting we do some little exercises now and then to counter the stress. Read on for examples of a few that are being posted around the Internet. You will find some more to your liking than others, of course, but give them all a try to find out which ones those are.
- Slowly rotate your head around. Front to back at first, and then left to right. Use your hands to apply a bit of resistance to the movements. This helps stretch the neck in all directions to relieve some of the stress.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, trying to touch your elbows behind you. Hold it about five seconds and then release. Repeat this twenty or more times a session to counteract the forward slouch of the neck and shoulders.
- Stand in a door way and put your hands on the sides. While pressing against the door frame with your hands, push your chest forward. This helps strengthen the muscles that help us have good posture.
One other quick tip: When you are using a monitor or even your laptop, do not add to the stress of text neck. Be sure the screen is at eye level. Set the monitor or laptop higher by stacking it on books or a tray made for that. Try to avoid using your laptop while slouched in a chair, especially a recliner. Sure, it feels good now, but it could cause big problems later.
Earlier in the article, I mentioned text claw. This is not as serious perhaps as the ways you can damage your spine with recurrent episodes of text neck, but it is a real and painful ailment, and if you have text neck, chances are you have text claw, too, or soon will.
A lot of us who have been keyboarding for years have a syndrome that seems a lot like carpal tunnel, but it isn’t. It is a milder form of inflammation that occurs in the hand after repetitive motion performed over an extended period of time.
While it is not an official diagnosis, text claw is a troublesome thing that can hurt in the fingers, the palms of the hands, and into the wrist. Sometimes it can aggravate all the way up to the elbows.
This used to be something only aging avid computer users got, but with texting, it is becoming more prevalent in younger people. The way you cradle the smartphone in your hand and then move your fingers and thumb to type out the letters is an extremely uncomfortable position for your hands. Again, it might not seem so right now, but it will catch up with you when repeated day after day and year after year.
Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some tips for bring needed relief from the stress and possibly avoiding a seriously painful case of text claw:
- Stretch the muscles by extending your arm and flexing the hand back over the wrist. Reach up and gently – that is gently – pull back on the fingers to increase the stretch.
- Put your hands together in front of you, like a praying hands position, and press together. Hold five seconds, release five seconds, for about six to eight repetitions.
- Take a break. When your hands feel tired, put down the device or step back from the keyboard and give them a break. Do a few shoulder blade squeezes (see text neck exercises) and rotate your hands at the wrist while doing them.
- Apply heat after a long day of typing or texting. Warm towels in a microwave and wrap your hands in them, or get special mittens for this purpose.
See Your Doctor
As with anything else, if something about your body is not feeling just right, you should see your doctor. With text neck, you want to make sure it is not a more serious spinal issue. Once that is ruled out, your doctor may suggest exercises similar to the ones you read about here plus the use of a mild analgesic to lessen the inflammation causing the pain.
The same is true for text claw. When the pain is really harsh and doesn’t go away, you will want to check with your physician that it is not something more serious like carpal tunnel syndrome, which may require surgical intervention to cure.
For all the conveniences technology brings us, our increasing reliance upon it requires us to use it in the ways it is provided. Hanging our heads, grasping with our hands, and hunching over a screen is how it is done but not necessarily without risks. It’s not so much directly how much a human head weighs but how that weight is multiplied when we dangle it from our necks. Save yourself a lot of pain by being a little proactive with the tips and techniques listed here, and thanks for reading!