Text neck syndrome, also known as tech neck or smartphone neck, is a relatively new term that describes neck pain and damage due to looking down at electronic devices for prolonged periods.

Text neck primarily occurs due to repeated stress on the neck and spine when the head tilts forward and downward to look at a screen.

The human head can weigh between 10–12 pounds in a neutral position, but it becomes significantly heavier when tilted forward, increasing the strain on the neck muscles and spine.

This article discusses text neck syndrome, including the symptoms, causes, complications, treatment, and prevention.

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A 2023 article lists the following symptoms in people with text neck:

  • Neck pain: Persistent or intermittent pain in the neck is one of the hallmark symptoms of text neck. This pain can range from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating.
  • Upper back pain: Aching pain or discomfort in the upper back, particularly in the region between the shoulder blades.
  • Shoulder pain: The forward head position can cause tension and strain in the shoulder muscles, leading to discomfort or pain.
  • Headaches: Tension headaches or cervicogenic headaches that originate from issues in the neck.
  • Reduced range of motion: People with text neck may find it difficult to turn their head or look up without discomfort.
  • Muscle stiffness: Stiffness and tightness in the neck and upper back muscles are common symptoms.
  • Changes in posture: Muscle weakness and stress on the neck and shoulders may lead to a worsening in someone’s posture.

Current research primarily associates text neck syndrome with mobile phones and other handheld electronic devices. However, other factors and activities can cause or exacerbate this issue.

While smartphones are a common cause due to the way they encourage users to tilt their heads forward and down, leading to poor neck and spinal posture, here are some other potential causes and contributing factors:

  • Computer use: Prolonged use of computers, laptops, and desktops can also contribute to text neck, especially if the computer monitor is not at eye level or if the workstation setup is ergonomically incorrect.
  • Tablets and e-readers: Like smartphones, using tablets and e-readers can lead to text neck if held at improper angles for extended periods.
  • Video gaming: Gamers who spend hours playing video games on consoles, computers, or handheld devices may also experience text neck symptoms due to the sustained forward head position during gameplay.

A range of activities and lifestyle factors can contribute to text neck syndrome, so people should be mindful of their posture if they participate in any activity involving tilting their heads forward and down.

Without treatment or management, text neck may lead to more severe conditions or complications, including:

  • Chronic pain: Over time, untreated text neck can develop into chronic neck pain and upper back pain, which can significantly affect a person’s daily life and quality of life.
  • Muscle imbalances: The constant strain on neck muscles and ligaments can lead to muscle imbalances in the neck and upper back. This can result in discomfort and can affect posture and overall musculoskeletal health.
  • Spinal misalignment: Text neck can cause changes in the natural curvature of the spine, potentially leading to conditions like excessive curvature of the upper or lower spine.
  • Degenerative disc disease: The increased pressure on the cervical spine due to poor posture may accelerate the wear and tear of the intervertebral discs. This can contribute to degenerative disc disease, a condition that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the affected area.
  • Nerve compression: Prolonged compression of the nerves in the neck can lead to conditions like radiculopathy — a pinched nerve — which can cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms and hands.

A healthcare professional, such as a primary care physician or a physiotherapist, may diagnose text neck based on a physical examination, medical history, and discussing symptoms.

Medical imaging tests, such as X-rays, may assess the person’s posture and the extent of spinal damage.

Treatment for text neck may include the following:

  • physical therapy
  • chiropractic care
  • pain management techniques, such as massage and gentle stretching
  • exercises to strengthen the neck and upper back muscles

In some cases, medication may provide pain relief. Severe cases may require surgery, but this is relatively rare and usually a last resort if other treatment options do not relieve symptoms.

Treatment may also focus on ways to prevent recurrence and promote long-term spinal health. This may involve better ergonomic habits, regular exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the neck and upper back, and maintaining good posture.

To prevent text neck, people should be mindful of their posture while using electronic devices. They should:

  • Keep the head in a neutral position.
  • Hold or position devices at eye level when possible.
  • Take frequent breaks to stretch and relax the neck and shoulders.

Ergonomic accessories, like laptop stands and phone holders, can also help a person avoid text neck syndrome.

If text neck is caught early and is relatively mild, it may resolve with time. This is providing a person carries out appropriate self-care, such as improved posture, regular stretching, and over-the-counter pain relievers.

Lifestyle modifications, including limiting screen time and using ergonomic equipment, can also speed up recovery.

Cases of moderate severity may take several months to heal. Physical therapy, chiropractic care, and exercises to strengthen the neck and upper back muscles can be beneficial. Consistent adherence to these treatments and lifestyle changes is crucial for recovery.

People with severe cases of text neck, especially those with complications like disc compression or nerve impingement, may take longer to heal.

Read on for the answers to some commonly asked questions about text neck syndrome.

How long does it take to heal text neck syndrome?

The time it takes to heal from text neck syndrome can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the condition, the individual’s overall health, their commitment to treatment and lifestyle changes, and the specific treatment methods they use.

Generally, neck injuries can take several weeks to several months to heal.

What is the best way to sleep with text neck syndrome?

According to a 2019 review, research recommends sleeping on the side or the back if someone has upper or lower back pain. However, the authors state that more high quality studies are necessary.

Text neck syndrome is a growing concern due to the widespread use of electronic devices. However, people can manage and prevent it with proper awareness, posture correction, and medical intervention when necessary.

Maintaining good posture and seeking medical advice if someone experiences symptoms can help people avoid or address text neck effectively.