Young businessman holding mobile phone between ear and shoulder talking and writing notes to clipboard. Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: A new condition called the ‘Text neck syndrome’ has become a common complaint as most people spend hours on their phone a day, slouching their neck down and forward for long periods of time.

The new terms is used to describe repeated stress injury and pain in the neck as a result of excessive watching or texting on hand-held devices over a long period.

Researchers at Harvard Medical Health predict that 7 out of 10 people will experience neck aches at some point in their lives.

Dr Asha Thomas, Medical Director for Doctor on Call, a 24/7 Medical Services company that provides health care services at homes and hotels, said that looking down at your phone so often compresses and tightens the muscle, tendon and ligament structures in front of the neck. This then lengthens the muscles, tendon, and ligament structures behind the neck, and causes neck pain and soreness.

“The bottom line is avoid looking down with your head bent forward for extended periods throughout the day. Be mindful of your posture. Any activity which is prolonged can negatively affect the parts of your body,” said Dr Asha.

To further clarify the impact of text neck syndrome, Hannah Wilkinson, physiotherapist at Valiant clinic, Dubai explained the connection between neck, shoulder and back muscles.

On average, a head weighs approximately 5Kg, which should be balanced on the spine effectively.

“The phone is a good example where we are encouraged to allow our head and shoulders to slump forwards and down. This changes the distribution of load on the spine and can lead to over pressuring of certain areas,” Wilkinson told Gulf News.

She pointed out that when the head is held down at 60 degrees, the relative head weight increases to 27kg.

“Depending on how long you use your phone, you are asking your neck and back muscles to hold between 5-27Kg in this position for the duration of the time,” said Wilkinson.

These muscles are quickly fatigued and could lead to aches in the neck, burning sensations in the neck muscles, and sharp pains.

“Overall, your body is telling you to correct your position. If you continue to pressure yourself in this way over a period of time (months to years) these aches and pains can cause you problems even when you are not using your phone,” said Wilkinson.

The neck is surrounded with muscles, from the front to the sides and to the back, which vary in size, location and function.

Wilkinson explained that muscles have the ability to produce movement at a number of speeds and forces.

“Not all muscles are created equal. Some are designed for helping you stabilise your neck such as the longus capitus (a flexor of the neck that attached from the neck to the skull), while others such as the longus colli (a deep neck flexor) are muscles, which are more concerned with the posture of your neck rather than big movements to turn your head or look up,” she said.

With poor head and neck posture, the little muscles are continuously over pressured, gradually becoming weaker and unable to do their job properly.

This means the big strong powerful muscles try to come to the rescue.

“Upper traps, levator scapulae and sternocleidomastoid swoop in and try to give support to the weak muscles. The only problem being is these big muscles are not designed to do this job, meaning they soon become tired from having to work in a way they are not used to,:” said Wilkinson.

This leads to fatigue and ultimately pain.

Advising against a sedentary lifestyle, Wilkinson said the easiest way to prevent neck pain is to avoid long hours of phone usage, ensure regular movement and exercise as well as having a good desk set up where you are not slouching and repeatedly turning your head in one direction to take to someone.

Tips on avoiding neck pain while using mobile phones

1, Use a hands free set if you speak on the phone a lot on a daily basis

2. If you are using your phone to message/email, bring your phone up so you don’t tilt your head down.

3. Don’t work/watch or read from your phone for more than 30 minutes at a time; if you are doing this you need to move onto a more suitable device where you can sit well.

4. Use your phone less

5. Take a phone-free hour on an evening after work; not only will this help your neck but also your overall well being