Text Neck Syndrome: Symptoms, Treatment and Exercises

In all probability, you’re reading this hunched over your laptop or your iPhone.

What I want you to do is to bear with me and sit up straight for the remainder of this article.

If you’re in a public place right now, just take a look around at your surroundings.

How many people are on their smartphones? Now look closely and you are most certainly going to find them craning their necks to look at their gadgets.

Using your phone in this manner may seem pretty casual at the moment, but doing so for long periods of time has a drastic effect on your health and posture.

The Epidemic of ‘Text Neck Syndrome’

bad posture iphone

The average human head weighs in somewhere between 10 and 12 pounds. This is all well and good if you are sitting up straight with your head neatly stacked above the spine, however it’s a different story as soon as you lean your head forward.

Every inch you move your head downwards adds an additional 10lbs of force onto your neck and spine.

Due to the rise in mobile use and the widespread integration of technology into our daily lives, the forward head posture or ‘dowager humps‘ that were previously only seen in grandmothers and great-grandmothers, have become apparent in the teenagers of today.

This is increasingly becoming known as “text neck”.

Symptoms and Implications of Text Neck

There are certain symptoms that are inherent with text neck.

Bad Posture, Aches and Pain

We’ve already seen how constantly looking down at your phone puts a lot of pressure on your spine.

As your head moves forward, the top of the spine may begin to exhibit a curve to compensate for the extra pressure.

Putting your spine under this type of pressure for long periods of time can cause a lot of neck pain and aches.

In addition, your body will begin to adapt to this ‘new’ position that it constantly finds itself in. The body will start to form the much dreaded forward head posture look.

With this forward head posture, comes a rounding of the shoulders and a hunched posture. You may find that your chest area feels tight as it decreases in size from all the hunching over.

All this can lead to further shoulder discomfort and pain.

Not to mention that chronic tightness can also lead to headaches and unwanted tension in the body.

There are many implications of all these muscles and structural imbalances.

Firstly you won’t feel great physically, and over time it will only get worse if not addressed immediately.

You’ll also lose flexibility in the neck and upper body.

Secondly, the reach of your posture is not limited just to your physical appearance: It affects your mind too.

It Affects your Emotional State & Mood

Studies and tests have been carried out that show a direct link between your posture and your mood. We slouch when we’re sad and we slouch when we’re scared. We slouch when we’ve given up.

Research has shown that slouching or the “text neck” posture shares an eerie resemblance with the posture that clinically depressed people tend to adopt.

A 2010 study showed that individuals with major depressive disorders exhibit changes in body posture.

They found that the individuals usually stood with their necks drooping forward with collapsed shoulders in what seemed like a submissive stance.

My use of the word ‘submissive’ is nowhere near coincidental. Modern technology has enslaved us and is not only controlling how we sit but what goes on inside our minds as well. And it appears that the size of the device directly correlates to the effect it has on your behaviour.

In this particular experiment, participants were randomly given one out of four electronic devices of varying size, to interact with.

After the experiment was over, it was evident that the participants who were on smaller devices (iPods) behaved less assertively than the people who were using MacBooks, often waiting longer to interrupt the experimenter who had made them wait, sometimes not interrupting the experimenter at all.

Now you know that posture reflects the emotional state, the confidence and the self-esteem of a person. But it doesn’t just stop there; posture can also cause changes in your emotional state.

In another study, non-depressed individuals were asked to sit in either an upright or slouched posture while they took part in a mock job interview, some established stress inducers and some other questionnaires.

The study concluded that when compared to the people who were sitting upright, the slouchers exhibited much greater fear and a low self-esteem and confidence.

Their posture went as far as to affect the very content of their answers. Linguistic analyses showed that the slouchers were more negative and critical of themselves in their answers than the non-slouchers.

Another study had participants who were assigned to sit in a slouched position or sit erect. The participants were then given a list of words that were either positive or negative.

They were later asked to recall these words. The study showed that the slouchers seemed to recall the negatives a lot more than the positives while the participants sitting upright showed no such biases.

Sitting in an upright posture also leads to increased productivity and better concentration. You may not realise it but your posture has a huge subconscious impact on your behaviour and your personality.

How to Fix It ‘Text Neck’ and ‘Forward Head Posture’

Despite the negative tone of this post thus far, not all is lost! Text neck can be fixed!

I underline a two-step process for treating text neck syndrome.

1. Stretches & Corrective Exercises to Fix Text Neck

If you are someone who has already noticed that your posture has been compromised and grown worse over time, you can reverse this by doing corrective exercises that address the muscle imbalances that cause the bad posture.

A common set of muscle imbalances usually occurs with Text Neck:

  • Tight neck muscles – Tight neck muscles will pull your head forward instead of allowing your head to sit up straight.
  • Weak muscles at the front of the neck – It’s common for someone with text neck to have weak ‘cervical flexors.’ These muscles sit either side of the throat and push the head upright. Strengthening these will help push the head upright rather than allow it to fall forward.
  • Tight pec muscles – Tight chest muscles will pull the shoulders forward instead of allowing your shoulders and head to move back. The pec muscles will need to be released and stretched.

These posts on forward head posture and how to fix rounded shoulders have stretches and exercises that you can do daily to help fix your text neck.

It’s important to fix both these issues rather than only focusing on one.

Both the forward head posture and the rounding of the shoulders together are known as Upper Crossed Syndrome.

See the video above for an overview on how to fix both these issue together.

2. Develop New Positive Habits

All the corrective posture exercises won’t do you any good if you do not address the root cause, which in our case is placing the head in a forward position.

If you want to completely eliminate your text neck, you will have to avoid such situations, or at least reduce the time looking down at your mobile.

By doing this, you will give your body a break and help it recover from the poor posture that it finds it in all the time.

Here are some tips:

  1. Hold your mobile higher – It may look a little strange, but holding your phone nearer to eye-level will cause less strain on your neck and place your head in a more natural position.
  2. Stand-up desk– One of the cons of a desk job is that you’re left sitting in a chair the whole day. This is bad because often you will shift your head forward and allow your shoulders to hunch over as you stare at your screen all day. Consider switching to a standing desk. Standing is much better for your posture and by doing so, you can stand up tall with your shoulders held back and neck upright.
  3. Frequent Breaks– If you do have to sit down all day then at least consider standing up and walking around at frequent intervals. By standing up, you prevent your body from getting too accustomed to an unhealthy sitting posture. Stand up and roll your shoulders back.  Continuous and prolonged use of technology can have a draining effect on your eyes and affects your back as well. Be sure to get up and walk around every half hour or so, just to break this monotonous cycle of being glued to the screen.
  4. Walking and Jogging – Instead of taking public transport all the time, consider walking. If you’ve been sitting all day, why not go out for a jog to get you away from your phone or screen?
  5. Desk Setup– If your working station set up itself is flawed, then you can’t expect your posture to be maintained. Before plopping yourself on that chair and opening your laptop, make sure that your desk and chair are set up at the optimum height for good posture.
  6. Use Technology Less – This may be a hard one for many people. However, it is still possible to live and not use your cell phones and computers. It may not be feasible to stop using technology altogether but you can use it less. This will dramatically help your protect your posture and stop the inevitable text neck syndrome.

Technology may be a big part of our lives, but you shouldn’t allow it to hold so much sway over you.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll never look at your phone the same way again; both literally and figuratively. If you make the decision to improve your posture, you’ll see many benefits.