Text neck – a twenty first century phenomena…

One of the post popular things clients request is massage of the upper back, neck and shoulders.  Many of us hold our tension there and there are many, many reasons for why, pore posture, poor seating habits, learnt behaviour from childhood but on the increase is a recognisable issue called ‘text neck’.

Spike Milligan has it right when he wrote: ‘Sit up straight,’ says Mum to Mabel in his classic rhyme. Texting wasn’t an issue in his day, but the command to sit up straight still rings true.

Did you know that when we use our digital devices most people have a very slight hunch to their upper spine? Tom Whipple, Science Correspondent for The Times says,  “In the 20th century we had housemaid’s knee and miner’s cough — or, if you were from a different social stratum, tennis elbow. Now it seems there is a new work affliction for a new age, and it troubles all classes equally.

It is born of a peculiarly modern habit: walking along the street, head down, checking messages. It goes by the name of text neck.”

The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.

From a massage perspective, our clients request, as they demonstrate their discomfort by rotating their neck or squeezing their shoulders, we know the muscles such as the rhomboids, the long spinal muscles and trapezius are stretched and weak, while the neck extensors, intercostal and pectorals are shortened and strong thus pulling the head forward into the text neck position.

That’s the burden that comes with staring at a smartphone — the way millions do for hours every day, according to research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the US National Library of Medicine. Over time, researchers say, this poor posture, sometimes called “text neck,” can lead to early wear-and-tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. This article in the Washington Post, shows some great illustrations of the effect of the movement of the head when texting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/20/text-neck-is-becoming-an-epidemic

Perhaps what was known as ‘dowagers hump’ (a phrase I particularly hate) could be renamed as ‘silicon hump’ in reference to Silicon Valley, the creational home of many of our digital addictions.

The relief, post session, of relaxing these tight spots is palpable, seeing the client standing straight, commenting on how free they feel, is one of the highlights of doing this work.

Incidentally, the full text to Spike Milligan’s poem is below. It’s a particular favourite, recanted in our house regularly since our son had to learn it for a performance at school when he was 5 – it’s stuck, and wielded on spotting any slump or when eating peas!

Kids. By Spike Milligan.

“Sit up straight,” Said mum to Mabel. “Keep your elbows off the table. Do not eat peas off a fork. Your mouth is full – don’t try and talk. Keep your mouth shut when you eat. Keep still or you’ll fall off your seat. If you want more, you will say “please”. Don’t fiddle with that piece of cheese!” If then we kids cause such a fuss, why do you go on having us?


The Massage Therapists Pocket Book of Pathology, Su Fox




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