Ever try balancing a book on your head (for more than a second)? To do it, you need more than just patience; you need ideal posture.
One hundred and thirty thousand years ago, when residents of the planet possessed complete Neanderthalic characteristics, posture wasn't really that high on the list of health priorities, to say the least At the time, we assume finding food, surviving the seasons and avoiding death by all manner of creatures were considerably more important. But this is 2011 and we can stand upright, walk upright and consider our health a precious asset. And yet, like the Neanderthals, our apparent disinterest in good posture remains.
Why is good posture so important? It's pretty simple. When the spine is properly aligned with its natural curvature and the entire body – from the ears to the shoulders to the hips, knees and down to the ankles and feet – is in balance, we maximize spine health and avoid poor posture-related pain and dysfunction. Ideal posture creates ideal balance; it also optimizes breathing and circulation. And shouldn't we all want to achieve that?
May is National Correct Posture Month, so we thought it was high time to get you out of your slumped, bent-back, round-shoulders position that is likely all too common if you work at a computer, spend considerable time texting or checking e-mail on your cell phone (who doesn't these days?), or engage in any of the countless activities that put your back, neck and spine at risk courtesy of poor posture. It's time to stand tall, walk tall and improve your spinal health, all at the same time!
Your Body Is Sending You a Message
By Dr Dean Fishman
Text messaging, video gaming, surfing the Internet - with technology comes repetitive behaviors and body positioning that can have dramatic health consequences, not the least of which is a condition known as forward head posture. Just think about it: hours on end with your head down, neck scrunched, staring at a tiny phone, iPod or other device; you're just asking for trouble. Your body is sending you a message - it's time to answer it before you end up in pain.
Neck Pain Caused by Texting
About two years ago, I started to notice that more and more young people were coming to my office with similar complaints. They all had neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, and/or numbness and tingling into the upper extremity. While discussing my findings with one of these young patients, her mother asked me, "Well, what does she have?" I looked over at the patient and noticed that she was buried in her cell phone with her head flexed forward - texting. With that, I replied, "It's simple. She has text neck." I pointed out to the patient's mother that at 16 years old, her daughter had a reversed cervical curve with mild degenerative changes, and that she was too young to be experiencing these bony changes. I then asked the patient how often or how much she texts. She replied that she texts all day long, and that it is her primary mode of communication.
These days, people are constantly "connected" to their hand-held devices, whether it is their cellular phones, portable video games like Nintendo DS, e-readers such as Amazon Kindle, or they are just using apps on an iPhone. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that young people 8-18 years old spend in excess of seven-and-a-half hours a day using some form of mobile media. As a result, this younger demographic will surely be developing a condition known as forward head posture (FHP), which can cause the above symptoms and more.
As technology advances in the market of hand-held mobile devices, it's important to understand that where the head goes, the body will follow. If you have forward head posture, then you will have rolled shoulders. With rolled shoulders, a concave chest can follow, and often a pelvic tuck, all of which can contribute to progressive pain and dysfunction over time.
Text messaging was reported to have addictive tendencies in the Global Messaging Survey by Nokia in 2001, and was confirmed to be addictive in a study conducted at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2004. Since then, a study at the University of Queensland in Australia has found that text messaging is the most addictive digital service. It has been compared to being as addictive as cigarette smoking. The text reception habit introduces a need to remain connected, called "reachability."
Because the demographic of people ages 13-27 is one of the largest groups of texters, we can expect to see a large increase of medical and chiropractic conditions within the next decade. The amount of time spent in a forward head tilt while texting or gaming, surfing or browsing the Web has increased as hand-held mobile devices such as cell phones, video games, and MP3 players have become smaller, mobile and essentially a direct extension of the person.
Look around you and you will see people with FHP using hand-held mobile device at tables in restaurants, at red lights in their cars, walking through the mall, in line at the grocery store, and even sitting in doctors' reception areas. We are a society that is "connected," now more than ever before, and we are suffering the health consequences.
The problem is getting worse each year. According to data released Dec. 15, 2009, by the Census Bureau, Americans sent 110 billion text messages in December 2008. In the same month in 2007, Americans sent 48 billion messages. Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, is not surprised that the trend is especially prevalent among teenagers. In a Los Angeles Times article (Dec. 16, 2009), she stated: "Teens are still developing their communication habits. Adults have preset ones already."
The world is becoming more mobile. Children are getting mobile phones at younger and younger ages due to affordable prices and parents wanting to stay in touch. Hand-held mobile devices are performing more daily functions and are more portable than ever. Google's vice president of engineering and mobile applications, Vic Gundotra, has noted: "We are seeing a very fundamental shift where increasingly, particularly among the young demographic and in Asian countries, the primary access to the Internet is not through the PC but through mobile devices."
The Problem's Not Going Away
Research performed by Informa Telecoms & Media reported that in 2008, almost 162 million smartphones were sold, surpassing laptop sales for the first time. The research also suggests that smartphone sales will continue to be immune to the global economic downturn. With technology advancing, sales of the hand-held mobile device staying strong and people's desire to stay connected, FHP will be more prevalent than ever.
Of course, forward head posture is not a new condition. Chiropractors have been treating and educating patients on the dangers of FHP for years, and the health conditions that FHP or anterior head carriage contribute to are well-researched and documented.
With all this said, it's important to understand the negative effects of a repetitive stress syndrome and appreciate how many hours you are using your hand-held mobile devices and how many hours your children are using these devices. Talk to your doctor about forward head posture, the dangers of text messaging and other behaviors that put your body in stressful positions, and how you can avoid the pain before it starts.