‘Texting neck’

Recently I drove past someone who was sitting on a bench texting on their phone. Their back was so rounded that their head was very close to their knees and their drooping head reminded me of the bluebells that were in flower at the time.

This is a common posture when using a mobile phone – the head hangs forward and down and doing this for many hours causes repetitive stress for the neck as it has to support the whole weight of the head – a job it isn’t designed to do. Heads are really heavy – an average human head weighs between 4.5-5kg. If you’ve never felt how heavy they are – get someone to lie down and then gently pick up their head from the floor. The weight of the head often comes as a surprise.

Our head should be supported by the neck in a neutral position where the head is not too far forward. These days, neck problems and degeneration of the spine are becoming increasingly common in young adults and teenagers who show structural changes in the spine that you would only expect to see in much older people. Texting or spending long hours sitting at a badly positioned computer where the weight of the head pulls forward cause stress to the muscles and ligaments that support the neck vertebrae, which can ultimately lead to inflammation and soreness. If the head pulls forward, the shoulders tend to come forward as well and the upper back rounds which can lead to shoulder pain and tightness.

When I work with yoga students, I assess whether or not they carry their head in a neutral position. Our spine forms the central axis of the body and when the head is in a neutral position it is given support by the pelvis and it can then rest on top of the spine, supported but not carried by the muscles of the neck. The spine has natural curvatures and these are vital to maintain its structure. As people age, the upper back and shoulders often become more rounded and then the head has to be lifted to look forward, exaggerating the natural curve of the neck. This causes compression through an area which can lead to headaches and arm pain. When the structure and natural curves of the upper spine are lost, the lower back is not well supported and it thus becomes more prone to injury.

Yoga texts stress how vital it is to maintain the upright structure of the spine so that all the systems of the body can function well. Practicing yoga makes you more aware of your posture in daily life and helps to gradually correct bad postural habits such as holding the head too far forward.

The next time you are texting, driving or working at a computer, take a moment to notice where your head is and see if it is tilted forward. If it is, then the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons are all working overtime to hold it up. Screens should be at eye level so that you don’t have to bend the head forward or look down. If you already have a tendency to do this, then yoga can help to unravel this and make you more aware of maintaining a good posture throughout your day, teaching you to hold the head in an effortless, neutral position while strengthening the spine and helping to maintain its natural curves.