It wasn’t too long ago that most of the occupational based injuries I treated were related to the old desktop mouse. Tight forearms, tingling in the hands, numb fingers, sore lower back, it became all too common in our fast paced, work more, relax less lifestyle!
Lately I’ve noticed a heightened awareness my clients have of thumb pain and a sore neck (text neck) from the increase in smart phone use. Of the 6 billion people in the world, over 4 billion have mobile phones. Texting has become the dominant form of communication. Over one billion text messages are sent every month worldwide. The instantaneous nature of the digital age allows us to connect and communicate like never before. We have all become reliant on our phones and tablets so consequently we have a new set of repetitive strain injuries to deal with. Anyone who has spent any length of time on a mobile phone, tablet, has surely experienced the discomfort of poor body mechanics and repetitive straining – let alone the stressful effects it has on our mental state.
Texting Thumb and Neck Pain
Excessive texting creates sustained points of contraction in the hand and in particular the muscles that draw the thumb closer to the for finger. We don’t notice this occurring as all too commonly we sacrifice the aches and pains for the task at hand. Quite literally! Trigger Points develop and potential further complications such as tendonitis and Carpel Tunnel can occur.
Banging out hours on the mobile might strain the thumb – but combining that with holding a smartphone out in front of the body, while looking down at it and typing, texting, or surfing the net will lead to physical problems related to the neck. The average human head weighs about 5kg—but for every centimeter the head hangs forward, the amount of weight put on the spine increases by roughly 2 kg, a statistic attributed to I.A. Kapandji, M.D., in his book, The Physiology of the Joints: The Trunk and the Vertebral Column, and used widely by health professionals to illustrate the dangers of forward-head posture.
Hours of peering down at a smartphone combined with 15kg-or-more dangling from the spine can be an explosive combination—one that causes changes in the cervical spine, curve, supporting ligaments, tendons, and musculature, as well as the bony segments, commonly causing postural change. If left untreated, Text Neck can result in serious permanent damage including:
Flattening of the Spinal Curve Onset of Early Arthritis
Spinal Degeneration Spinal Misalignment
Disc Herniation Disc Compression
Muscle Damage Nerve Damage
Loss of Lung Volume Capacity Gastrointestinal Problems
As a practitioner the first thing is to educate my clients on the effects spending hours a day with our smartphones has on their posture and body mechanic overall. Most of the time I can ease the symptoms of their aches and pains but it’s only when we take a holistic approach to managing health through education, movement, nutrition, mind-set, and a structured strength program, that we see the problem resolved long term – or at least managed better from week to week. Once an effective treatment protocol has been determined, I apply evidence based remedial therapies such as remedial massage, trigger point therapy, dry needling, joint mobilisation, and stretching.
A consultation with an Absolute Health & Performance Allied Health Practitioner can provide the damage control needed to combat text thumb, neck pain, and other injuries of the digital age.
Written by James Meredith – Soft Tissue Therapist
 The Text Neck Institute. Text Neck: A Global Epedemic, Dr Dean Fishman, 2016