Screen use stresses neck, spine

YuLian Leshuk, Staff Writer

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“Text neck,” or tension in the neck, spine and upper back, is affecting teenagers because of the body position often used for texting and reading books. This tension is typically not experienced until adulthood. “Photo by Richard Chu and Graphic by Amy Glazer”

As students rush past each other in bustling hallways, attention down at their phones, most manage to avoid crashing into another person. Snapchats and texts fill screens, but students still navigate the traffic and beat the bell. Even these seemingly brief periods of staring down at a phone can create the lasting effects of “text neck.”

Doctor of Chiropractic Sarah Geringer said in a phone interview that “text neck” is the tension and pain caused by a consistent downward angle of the head and damages the neck, spine and upper back. Teenagers who consistently spend time on their phones are at risk for it and may require attention and treatment from a physical therapist if conditions worsen.

Freshman Jennifer Bodel said she notices tension in her neck and shoulders when looking down to watch television shows on her phone.

“I spend the most time [on my phone] watching Netflix,” said Bodel. “Sometimes I’m binge-watching my Netflix shows, and then I do notice [tension].”

Geringer said when the weight of the head is constantly in front of the spine, the straightening of a typically C-shaped curve of the neck causes abnormal tension in the neck and spine.

“We have discs between each of the joints in [the] spine for shock absorption between joints,” said Geringer. “When [discs] keep taking on more and more pressure, it can eventually injure that disc and cause it to [displace], and that can cause further issues and more severe issues than just neck soreness and headaches. It can cause neurological issues such as numbness and tingling in the arm, weight dips and severe pain.”

In a phone interview, Megan Randich, physical therapist and facility manager for Athletico in Westchester, said teens who use technology tend to experience pain that is more typically felt in their 30s or 40s.

“If you just have pain only when you look down, then get out of the position and you should be okay,” said Randich. “But if it gets to a point where you’ve been letting it go, when you have allowed the tension to start to change the way the [tissues] are made up, now you’re going to have damaged tissues, and that’s when you’re going to need to have [the damage] addressed and taken care of by a medical professional.”

Geringer said physical therapists can help to strengthen and support neck and back muscles, alleviating tension by fixing head posture.

“There are other less conservative professionals that you could seek treatment for as far as pain goes, [such as] pain management specialists, orthopedics or even neurologists or neurosurgeons,” said Geringer. “If the issue becomes very chronic or if you end up having disc herniations or disc issues down the road, then you would need a more invasive treatment.”

Bodel said she sometimes notices tension at the end of a school day but feels it does not cause obvious discomfort as much as when she watches Netflix for longer periods of time.

According to Randich, studying from both screens and paper often results in students spending long periods of time with their heads angled downward.

“[To prevent ‘text neck,’] rather than looking down at your books, you can raise your books up to eye level or lean them up on something, or recline with your head supported and read a book,” Randich said.

Geringer said that frequent breaks from phone use also help to relieve tension.

“[Give] your neck a break by looking up when you can,” said Geringer. “[Put] your neck into that extended position where you lean your head back and allow your neck to stretch.”

Junior Amelia D’Agaro said in order to avoid straining her neck, she holds her phone at eye level.

“If [tension from phone usage] is something that’s going to cause extensive pain or even surgery, it’s probably not worth it in the end,” said D’Agaro. “You can probably refrain from sending a Snapchat, even once in awhile.”

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Screen use stresses neck, spine