Text Neck Syndrome

The number of people across the world using hand held devices such as smartphones or tablets is on the rise – with approximately two thirds of the UK population using smartphones. In an urban environment, the evidence of high usage is clearly visible –  whether it’s on the train, bus, or in the supermarket - if you look around, it’s highly likely you’ll see someone looking down at their smartphone.

As mobile use increases, with a large percentage of the population well and truly addicted to texting and social media –  health related problems have evolved with it, creating the text neck syndrome, a worldwide phenomenon.

What Is Text Neck Syndrome?

text and neck painThe term is used to describe excessive strain caused by the use of hand held devices, a type of repetitive strain disorder occurring when the head is hung forward, slanting in a downward position in front of the shoulders for extended periods of time. It may also be referred to as turtle neck posture and is a clear indication of changing trends in the modern lifestyle.


Primary symptoms may be:

Stiffness and Aching in the Neck

The neck becomes sore and difficult to move, especially when attempting to look side to side or down, after using a hand-held device for a long period of time.

Sharp Pains in the Neck

Intense stabbing pains may be felt in the neck itself as well as radiating to other areas such as the shoulders and arms.

General Pain

Pain may mostly be felt in one spot, or area of the neck with possible trigger points in the muscles, sometimes sensitive upon palpation.

Tension Type Headaches

In some cases, an irritation to the neck can affect nerves and muscles in the neck causing severe stiffness and tension.

Radiated Pain

Nerve compression or irritation caused by craned neck posture can cause pain which radiates from the neck to the shoulders and into the arms, resulting in shooting pains as well as possible numbness and tingling.

Long Term Complications

Over time this repetitive strain disorder can cause a number of issues. The human head is heavy –  the average adult human head weighs between 4 to 5kg. Flexing the neck forward dramatically increases the weight exerted onto the cervical spine and surrounding structures, extending the head a mere one inch forward out of a neutral position, increases the force exerted by the weight of the head a dramatic 6 times. Over long periods, this frequent flexion can cause a wide range of issues and changes not only to the cervical spine and its curvature, but also to the supporting ligaments, tendons, muscles, cervical discs, nerves and other surrounding structures. This may lead to premature wear and tear and an increased chance of degenerative conditions such as:

Premature Osteoarthritis

The stress exerted on the joints and ligaments in the cervical spine can cause excessive wear leading to the loss of cartilage, subsequent swelling, bone erosion and the formation of osteophytes (bony spurs).

Disc Related Problems

Repetitive strain and poor posture can provoke intervertebral disc related problems at any point along the spine including the cervical spine.  A bulging or herniated disc may irritate or compress nerves in the neck region resulting in painful symptoms.

Spinal Misalignment

Over time the repetitive movement can flatten and deform the natural curvature of the spine.

Nerve Compression

In some cases, degenerative changes such as cervical disc herniation, can lead to the irritation or compression of nerves in the neck, this can cause severe pain felt at the source, referred pain as well as numbness and tingling sensations, this may radiate as far as the shoulders and arms.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Postural issues, including the craned text neck are responsible for a number of digestive problems as it places pressure on internal organs such as the stomach, intestines etc. As a result, this can lead to symptoms such as bloating, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux, constipation and irritable bowels.

Reduced Lung Capacity

The slumped posture can reduce lung capacity considerably, and consequently the flow of oxygenated blood around the body.

How to Avoid Text Neck

correct text posturePractice Correct Posture

It is important to always try to maintain correct posture, this is especially true whilst texting in the seated position. Raising the device to eye level, so the head doesn’t have to be tilted, is extremely helpful.

Take Breaks

It is important to take regular breaks when using smartphones and tablets and to avoid prolonged static posture. The neck should be brought back to a neutral position every few minutes.

Posture Focused Exercise

Exercises such as yoga and Pilates focus on correct posture and core strength – on a regular basis, this is not only beneficial for overall health and wellbeing but can improve general posture.


Immediate Treatment for Acute Pain

Over-the-Counter Medication

For acute pain relief over the counter analgesics and anti-inflammatories can suffice, however in more severe cases prescription medication may be required.

Ice/Heat Treatment

Ice is very effective at reducing swelling and inflammation, by causing small blood vessels to temporarily contract.

Heat patches work in the opposite way, providing targeted pain relief through therapeutic heat. Heat increases the blood flow to the affected area, assisting in the healing process.

Posture Correction

A simple yet highly effective solution, correcting or changing posture. This may involve lifestyle changes, addressing unhelpful habits and improving core strength.

Specific Stretches and Exercise

A physiotherapist can teach various stretch exercises specifically for the neck, such as the chin-tuck exercise, side neck stretches as well as others.

Chronic conditions

Pain Relief Medication

In chronic cases of severe cervical pain – in particular never related pain, prescription medication may be required – this may include opioids, certain anti-depressants or anti convulsants used for the treatment of chronic pain related conditions.

Physiotherapy / Massage and Manipulation

Physiotherapy can be highly beneficial in improving flexibility and musculoskeletal disorders – hands on manipulation, specific stretches and targeted exercises can improve not only painful symptoms, but also posture.

Cervical Epidural Injections

Cervical epidural steroid injections are used in the treatment of pain conditions provoked by inflammation or irritation of nerves in the neck as they exit the spinal cord. This short-term solution can provide sufficient pain relief to allow the sufferer to begin a rehabilitative exercise and postural correction program.

Radiofrequency Denervation

If the facet joints have been affected by the repetitive strain of long term continuous hand-held device use, Radiofrequency denervation uses heat to deactivate nerves around the facet joints causing pain.

Lidocaine Patches

Lidocaine patches produce a local anaesthetic effect, by helping to prevent nerves from transmitting painful impulses to the brain.

Capsaicin Cream

This cream consists of a substance found in hot chilli peppers – an effective pain killer, capsaicin cream is believed to work by preventing the nerves from sending pain messages to the brain.

Pain Management

The pain management clinic can assist the patients in the management of their symptoms with the use of a multidisciplinary pain management consultants, physiotherapists, psychologists and surgeons all working together to devise an individualised comprehensive treatment plan.

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