Did you know Canadians send an average of 250 million texts per day? Along with the convenience that advancing technology provides comes the need to minimize the risk of injury. This is especially true of young people, whose bodies are still developing.

With the ever increasing daily use of mobile devices – such as smartphones, tablets and handheld games – chiropractors are seeing an increase in corresponding repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), colloquially known by names such as text neck and Blackberry thumb. RSIs are injuries of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that are often caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression (pressing against hard surfaces), or sustained or awkward positions.

What is text neck?

“Text neck presents as rounded shoulders and the head hanging forward and down and is caused by poor posture from hunching over a mobile device for long periods of time,” says Dr. Brian Gushaty, an Edmonton chiropractor. “This prolonged poor posture is often associated with chronic headaches and shoulder and neck pain and can have long term impact.”

For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.

~ Dr. Adalbert Kapandji, Physiology of Joints

Young people are especially at risk as they are heavy users of smartphones and handheld gaming devices. Text neck and neck strain can cause postural abnormalities and changing growth patterns, especially in the upper spine.

Technology isn’t going anywhere, so how can we help our children minimize the risks? Since text neck is a postural abnormality, the key is to stress the importance of strong posture and how to achieve it.

Tips to avoid text neck

There are several things parents and young people can incorporate into their day-to-day activities to alleviate the symptoms of text neck and related RSIs and strengthen their posture:

  • Sit up straight with chest out and shoulders back.
  • Bring your arms up to eye level so you don’t have to look down to see the screen.
  • If you must look down, tuck your chin into your neck instead of hanging your head forward.
  • If you use your mobile device for extensive typing, consider investing in an external keyboard.
  • Rest your forearms on a pillow while typing to minimize neck tension.
  • Avoid using mobile devices in bright sunlight. Straining to see the screen often leads to jutting the chin forward, straining the muscles that support the head.

Strive for a balanced lifestyle

The best way to minimize the risk of RSIs related to mobile devices is to limit use of these devices.

Balance is critical. Encourage your child to take regular breaks from mobile devices and get regular physical activity to offset the effects of leaning over a smartphone or tablet.

“You want to neutralize the stress,” says Dr. Gushaty. “Strenuous physical activity for the upper body, such as racquet sports, can provide a good counterbalance for the strain caused by poor posture.”

Another key element is to introduce your child to a regular stretching program:

  • Hand stretches and squeezing a stress ball can help fingers.
  • Pull shoulder blades back and down to help alleviate neck and shoulder strain.
  • Stretch the chest by standing up straight with arms down at your side. Turn forearms until thumbs are pointing at the wall behind you.
  • A posture strengthening programs, like Straighten Up Alberta, is a fun, quick and easy way to incorporate stretching into your daily routine.

If you are concerned your child is suffering from a repetitive strain injury like text neck, talk to a health care provider. Your chiropractor is trained to treat RSIs in all age groups and can provide advice on achieving a balanced health lifestyle for your whole family.