I know I’m sticking my neck out here, but it’s high time we take a deeper look at what lap-level technology is doing to our bodies as we spend hours and hours, day after day, year after year, looking down at our phones, our screens, and now, our politicians.
Talk about shaping your destiny. The medical malady cutely called “Text Neck” is on the rise, as gazillions of us conduct our lives on mobile devices—head forward, eyes lowered, shoulders slumped. Sadly, over time, this “downward-looking posture” has unintended and very expensive health care consequences. (This is more than a hunch.)
• Neck and shoulder pain.
• Chronic headaches and arthritis.
• Pinched nerves and herniated discs.
• Feelings of powerlessness and anxiety.
And more. “Think ADHD, immune issues, allergies, fatigue and hormone imbalances,” Dr. Matt Thompson, a well-trained chiropractor based in Highlands Ranch, CO, emailed me recently. Thompson is alarmed at what he’s been seeing. And feeling.
“The advent and abundance of technology is skyrocketing ‘forward head posture’ and ‘text neck’ in the U.S. and worldwide,” he said.
“Practically, this means any signal between brain and body, both function and feeling, can be affected.”
Any signal between brain and body? That can’t be good.
And it gets worse.
“Maintaining this forward head posture ... stimulates the primitive brain while neglecting the higher brain,” explained Dr. Thompson. Could that also explain what’s going on in this year’s presidential campaign?
“This creates an immature brain balance between the left and right hemispheres, which can lead to behavioral, social, and immune system issues.”
It’s time for a serious heads up. There are things you can do—besides quitting your job and baking bread in a Zen monastery—that can help you lower the boom on Text Neck and maybe prevent it.
HEAVY IS THE HEAD. The average adult head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, depending on whether or not you were drinking the night before.
“For every inch the head goes forward beyond the shoulder, this is 10-15 extra pounds of stress and tension on the entire spine,” says Dr. Thompson. He’s talking about maybe 60 pounds hanging off your fragile neck, just so you can see a photo of your friend’s cat wearing a Cubs hat. “This can create pain, fatigue, soreness, headaches, vision and attention problems.”
(I know I mentioned this earlier in the column, but it’s possible you were having an attention problem.)
TEXT NECK PRESSURES YOUR CERVICAL SPINE. Text Neck, over time, can take the natural curve out of your neck, straighten your cervical spine, stretch the spinal cord and put pressure on your brainstem.
This is what sickness feels like, followed by pain, followed by millions of prescriptions for painkillers, which don’t work well and can be addictive.
YOU’RE ALL CONNECTED. The slumped, looking-down-all-the-time posture isn’t just bad for the body. It’s also a big drag on your emotions, your spirit, your sense of power. That’s the conclusion of many scientists, including social psychologist Amy Cuddy, associate professor at the Harvard Business School.
She’s the best-selling author of “Presence” and presenter of a sensational 2012 TED Global talk seen by over 33 million viewers. (I just hope you’ll watch it with your eyes level at your stand-up desk.)
The mind and body are connected, Cuddy reports, so when your body slumps, so do you, in subtle and debilitating ways. The Text Neck pose creates feelings of powerlessness and anxiety.
If you’d rather feel and act persuasively, and authentically, Cuddy says, strike the Power Pose: head up, eyes forward, shoulders wide, expanded.
SELF-CARE IS THE BEST CARE. So what can you do to prevent yourself from turning into the Hunchback of Who Knew?
• Read your screens at eye-level. Use a selfie stick, a stand-up desk or your perfectly placed arms.
• Team up with savvy practitioners, like Dr. Matt Thompson, who specialize in the analysis and correction of spinal posture and tone.
• Take breaks, do stretches, train in mind-body awareness practices such as yoga, Qigong, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and somatics.
• And this, dear readers: Limit your time looking down at small screens. Instead, spend more of it doing the Power Pose.