Apart from other strenuous daily activities, bending the neck forward resulting from the use of the phone, as well as other devices such as computers, tablets and reading books, seems to be taking a toll on people’s health.
Heath experts say most of these activities are likely to make one experience pain and stiffness of the neck and even other parts of the body because of the strain they exert on the neck. This condition is medically termed as the text neck syndrome.
This is the very situation 25-year-old Julius Zigama went through for a long period before deciding to see a doctor.
“The reason I didn’t seek medication earlier is because I knew it was due to long hours of sitting in the office. I was shocked when I was transferred to a bone specialist to check my neck bones after the pain became unbearable,” he says.
Whether at home or workplace, chances are high that one will check their phones periodically for messages, alerts or calls. This, according to medics, has increased the chances of one developing neck problems.
However, the problem is not only browsing your phone every minute for updates, Dr Janvier Rusizana,a general practitioner at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera, Kigali, says excessive use of the phone (especially texting) may not only be a time waster but also take a toll to your health.
How the damage happens
Text neck Syndrome is the pain, stiffness in the neck and upper back due to the neck being propelled forwards for long periods when texting or using other electronic equipment.
Rusizana notes that this comes about due to the recurring stress on the neck, which puts stress on the neck muscles as well as the spine.
With today’s generation where everyone owns or has access to mobile gadgets, Rusizana says a lot of time is spent on such devices, increasing everyone’s risk of getting text neck syndrome.
“The condition is common both in adults and young people. The alarming issue is that it’s not only the chronic neck pain, but it can also result into changes in the spinal curvature in young people,” he says.
Rusizana also points out that, the longer one spends in such postures, the more they are at risk of developing other problems including back pains.
Dr Albert Ndata, an orthopedist in Kigali, says many symptoms come along because of the weight put on the neck.
“When one leans their head forward, the strain on the neck increases. As a result, an individual presents with neck pain, stiffness, soreness of the neck muscles and upper back.
“In more severe and long term cases, the patient can present with severe muscle spasms of the neck, upper back and shoulder, as well as numbness, pins and pricks if nerves of the cervical spine are affected,” he says.
Ndata notes that if left untreated, this condition can lead to inflammation of the neck ligaments and nerves along with permanent arthritic and spine.
“There is increase in wear and tear of the intervertebral joints, facets and discs. This in the long-run results into the cervical spondylosis which is a degenerative condition or arthritis of the neck,” he says.
Flattening of the spinal curve, spinal misalignment and spinal degeneration are just among the serious causes of text neck syndrome, according to Ndata.
Manifestation of text neck syndrome
According to Daniel Gahungu, a general practitioner at Polyclinique de I’Etoile in Kigali, putting your neck in a position where it has to bend for long period of time leads to problems of neck pain, as well as making one uncomfortable.
“One may not realise they are uncomfortable until they start experiencing signs such as tightness and stiffness across the shoulders, unexpected headaches as well as pain in the neck and the back,” he says.
Gahungu says that a person suffering from text neck may also experience pain in the arms, fingers elbows and wrists.
He says they may also experience numbness and tingling in the upper parts of the body.
According to recent research by California Academy of Sciences, in today’s technology-thirsty society, it’s rare not to see someone with their head down texting on their cell phone or reading status updates.
The study notes that too much texting and tilting the head downwards can become a pain in the neck, resulting into text neck syndrome.
Which is the right posture?
Gahungu says prevention consists of keeping neck straight in the normal position and avoiding bending it for long continuously.
Also, regular exercises of the neck can help strengthen the neck muscles and spine. If pain is severe, one can take pain killers.
Ndata adds that correct positioning of the neck and back is an important part of healthy habits one should cultivate.
“This includes holding your phone, tablet or laptop at eye level and avoiding bending over when using these gadgets,” he advises.
He also points out that making sure that your screen on the desk is directly positioned in front of you at eye level, as well as ensuring that the head is squarely above your chest and shoulders are some of the best ways to avoid the condition.
“Also, taking frequent breaks from bending position is another good practice, as well as exercising and straightening your neck muscles. When standing, one should distribute body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet.
While sitting in an office chair, one should take advantage of the chair’s features. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line,” he says.
Dr Ndata warns that any prolonged sitting position, even a good one, can be tiring. However, shifting forward to the edge of the seat with a straight back can alternate with sitting back against the support of the office chair to ease the work of neck and back muscles.
Raymond Awazi, pediatrician
Poor postures over a long time can lead to spine damage, leading to back pain. To obtain effective relief, one should identify the symptom of the pain and get treated for the underlying cause to ensure total recovery.
Yosam Kalisa, medical student at University of Rwanda
Taking breaks from continuous sitting can aid in preventing such pains. On the other hand, standing for long hours should also be avoided as it contributes to back pains. Quick diagnosis is required for recurrent pains.
Boniface Nsekanabo, medic at Avega Clinic
Good postures can help prevent back and neck pains. Sitting with support will help in avoiding such pains, especially if one spends more than six hours seated. Besides, exercises are also important in helping in stretching of the muscles.
Francis Kazungu, general practitioner
When one experiences symptoms such as fever, weight loss, leg weakness and severe abdominal pains, it could be an indication that one is suffering from lower back pains. Seeking immediate medication is important to prevent further complications.