Tex­ting can be a pain in the neck

Repet­i­tive mo­tion causes strain

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ed Stan­nard

If you have a pain in the neck, you might want to con­sider whether you want to text about it.

You may be suf­fer­ing from the new­est mal­ady brought to us by the lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances: “text neck,” also known as “smart­phone neck” or “cell­phone neck.”

And if you text with one hand while hold­ing the phone in the other, you may be even more sus­cep­ti­ble than if you’re a two-thumb tex­ter.

“There’s a cer­tain lit­er­a­ture on so-called cell­phone neck — there’s al­ways a name for every­thing,” said Dr. Ken­neth Kramer, an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon with Con­necti­cut Orthopaedic Spe­cial­ists who spe­cial­izes in con­di­tions of the spine.

Kramer said the af­flic­tion falls into “the com­mon bas­ket of overuse syn­dromes or repet­i­tive-use syn­dromes,” such as run­ner’s shin splints, swim­mer’s shoul­der or ten­nis el­bow.

Neck strain can arise with tex­ting or some­times when us­ing a lap­top when “peo­ple have their necks and heads in a fully flexed, craned po­si­tion” so that the head is be­ing held up solely by the large trapez­ius mus­cle in the back of the neck.

“When peo­ple think of the traps … peo­ple think of that large ridge of mus­cu­la­ture above the shoul­ders,” Kramer said. But it’s ac­tu­ally “a very large, broad sheet. It ex­tends from the base of the skull, it ex­pands out to the shoul­ders and then, al­most like a tri­an­gle, it ex­tends down to the mid-back be­tween the shoul­der blades.”

Our “traps” al­low us to flex and turn the neck and head, keep our shoul­ders in line and twist our arms. But they’re not in­tended to hold up our heads while we’re hunched over, tex­ting on our phones.

“Con­sider that the av­er­age hu­man head weighs about 10 pounds,” Kramer said. “If you and I held a 10-pound dumb­bell in an ex­tended po­si­tion, it would be a sig­nif­i­cant load over a pe­riod of time.”

Hold­ing up our heads is part of what our spinal col­umns are meant to do. If you look down too much, “the neck and the up­per back mus­cles are be­ing very much strained,” and the trapez­ius is re­quired to keep the head “from drop­ping down on your chest,” Kramer said. “Done repet­i­tively enough, it could cause mus­cle strain.”

Dr. Arya Varthi, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of or­tho­pe­dic surgery at the Yale School of Medicine who spe­cial­izes in spinal surgery, said flex­ing the neck for­ward “puts a good amount of pres­sure … through the mus­cles in the back of the neck as well as the disks be­tween the ver­te­brae.

He said “most peo­ple who have this don’t need surgery” un­less a nerve is com­pressed, which would re­sult in tin­gling down the arm.

“I wouldn’t say we track the num­bers … but anec­do­tally over the past 10 to 20 years, with in­creased cell­phone us­age and in­creased com­puter us­age, the num­ber of peo­ple with these prob­lems has gone up,” he said.

While it has not been re­ported as a ma­jor prob­lem, Kramer said, “Amongst peo­ple who are com­plain­ing with these symp­toms, it cor­re­lates with more rather than less tex­ting.”

He also said that those who use two thumbs to text, rather than hunt­ing and peck­ing with one fin­ger, are “a lit­tle less prone” to the strain. “That was a lit­tle bit of a softer find­ing,” Kramer said.

One way to lessen the strain “would be if a per­son … were to sup­port their

“Anec­do­tally over the past 10 to 20 years ... the num­ber of peo­ple with these prob­lems has gone up.”

Dr. Arya Varthi, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of or­tho­pe­dic surgery at the Yale School of Medicine

arms or el­bows [on] a desk while they’re tex­ting. That takes a lot of the weight off the shoul­ders … and up­per back,” Kramer said.

The other way to avoid neck strain would be to “ad­just your pos­ture. Try to text with your head in an up­right po­si­tion,” he said. “If af­ter try­ing those things … a per­son was still hav­ing neck symp­toms … then the right thing would be to at­tend some phys­i­cal ther­apy and be ed­u­cated in some strength­en­ing ex­er­cises for the neck and up­per back mus­cles.”

Varthi sug­gested us­ing a sit-to-stand desk, which “can put your body in a bet­ter po­si­tion to look at a screen.” To ease the pain, he sug­gested Tylenol or li­do­caine patches. “If a per­son tries treat­ments like that for six to eight weeks and doesn’t get bet­ter, an MRI would be the next step.”

He also sug­gested “keep­ing your weight down be­cause the less weight that you have on your body, the less pres­sure you have on your neck.” He added that smok­ing can ex­ac­er­bate neck pain (since) nico­tine con­stricts blood ves­sels, which “de­creases oxy­gen sup­ply to disks and mus­cles.”

Want to urge some­one to lose weight or stop smok­ing? Go ahead and text them. It prob­a­bly won’t hurt you too much.

Con­trib­uted pho­tos

Dr. Ken­neth Kramer, left, and Dr. Arya Varthi

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