Advertisement

Students seek chiropractic treatment for neck pain caused by prolonged phone use

University students are using their reading week to seek help from their local chiropractor for neck pain and stiffness, symptoms of a modern medical condition known as Text Neck Syndrome.

The condition is caused by looking down at devices for prolonged periods.

Although common in the younger generation who may use devices more than others, the condition impacts everyone who may have their head in a constant tilted position, says Dr. Jeremy McGuire from the Fort Frances Chiropractic Centre in Fort Frances.

“We fall prey to what we're doing. When we're on our phone, we're really not focused on doing anything particularly. There's no awareness that we're actually harming ourselves,” he said.

The day of the interview, Dr. McGuire treated two students who came in for treatment for Text Neck.

“They're doing a lot more sit time,” he said. “Even though they try to do some exercise, it accumulates… I had one boy that actually came in and it was because his parents were worried about him because of his posture.”

When our heads are tilted forward, it puts a chronic load on the neck that can lead to myofascial pain, cervicogenic headaches (a pain that starts in the neck) and even damage to spinal discs, Dr. McGuire says.

“It's not just a neck problem. It has an impact on a whole bunch of other things,” Dr. McGuire said. “The weight of our head alone on our neck—and our neck vertebrae are not big—there's a significant amount of force on them, even when our heads are in a good position. So when you start to drop your head forward, that force doubles and triples and quadruples the farther you go.”

Even a small bend forward increases the load on one’s neck. “Gravity only works in one direction,” Dr. McGuire said, who added that if the head weighs around 12 pounds, a forward head tilt by 15 degrees can increase the force upon one’s neck to 27 pounds.

The problem is that people may not realize how their daily habits have lasting negative impacts on the body.

Dr. McGuire believes that chiropractors and physiotherapists will be asked to address text neck syndrome cases more frequently, especially as the world becomes increasingly addicted to cell phones. He warns parents to put limits on screen time for children and teach them good posture.

“Over time, it is harmful,” he said. “We love technology and with cellphones, people don't hold it up high. They hold it down and they look down. We as chiropractors and physios are going to be battling more and more of this if we don't get the younger generation to make very conscious efforts of change.”

Older folks aren’t immune to text neck syndrome either. Dr. Guire noted that his 80-year-old father prefers to look at his computer more than his cellphone. Although the downward head tilt is not as harmful when sitting at a computer screen, sitting at a desk for prolonged periods can still have an impact on the body.

Thankfully, there are small ways to combat Text Neck Syndrome.

Taking regular breaks from phone and computer use is a small habit that makes a big difference. Dr. McGuire suggests setting a timer for reminders to change one’s position, stretch, or go for a walk.

A desk set up that encourages a more erect posture, as Dr. McGuire likes to call “military posture” for looking “too upright,” which will put the body in alignment and cause less damage to the muscles and joints. Standing desks can encourage good posture, or when using chairs, try choosing one that supports the back.

Regular exercise and stretching has monumental benefits too, and is often used to treat Text Neck Syndrome.

Unlike those who exercise solely for aesthetics, Dr. McGuire reveals that his favorite exercise routine focuses on strengthening his upper and lower back.

“People generally want to work out to look like they work out because they got a big chest and big arms,” he said. “I want to have a great back. So my first workout of the week will always be my back workout so that it’s the strongest to hold my posture. Because I bend forward to help my patients when I’m working on them all week.”

And lastly, Dr. McGuire says to try and hold our phones up high rather than down in one’s lap. People may not be able to avoid looking down when studying or completing paperwork, making the small and doable changes worth the conscious effort.

He reminds us that although the mental health harms of regular phone use are more widely discussed, the effects on our physical body are just as important.

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times