“Text neck,” experts tell us, is a growing epidemic. People are spending more time with their heads bent down to look at their smartphone or tablet, adding significant stress to their neck, leading to neck pain, back pain, and jaw pain.

TMJ can exacerbate this condition, causing worse pain even with only moderate time spent with the neck bent. If you experience text neck symptoms, try some of our recommended strategies to reduce the severity of the condition. If you suspect that TMJ might be accentuating your text neck, let Columbia TMJ dentist, Dr. Adam Hahn, at Smile Columbia Dentistry help. 

woman holding her neck in pain while looking at her phone

What Is Text Neck?

Text neck is when a person experiences neck pain and other symptoms related to holding their head in an unhealthy position while looking at their smartphones or other devices. 

Your Neck Position Leads to Neck Strain

To understand text neck, it’s important to understand how the position of your head changes the amount of force your neck muscles have to support. 

You can get a sense of what happens if you imagine you are holding your friend’s hands to keep them from falling over. When they’re standing straight, they don’t need any support. The more they lean forward, the harder it gets for you to keep them from falling. 

The human head weighs about 10-12 pounds. In a vertical position, all or nearly all of that weight is supported by your neck bones–it’s like your friend standing up straight. Bending your head just 15 degrees means the neck muscles have to support the equivalent of 27 pounds. At 30 degrees, it increases to 40 pounds. At 45 degrees, it increases to 49 pounds. Then at 60 degrees, your neck muscles are supporting the equivalent of 60 pounds.

You might think this isn’t that big an issue because you just look down for a quick moment or two, but it adds up. Experts estimate that the average person spends 700-1400 hours a year looking down at their phones, and heavy users (mostly teens) can spend up to 6400 hours a year like this. That’s a lot of time with a lot of extra weight.

Symptoms of Text Neck

How do you identify text neck? First of all, do a realistic assessment of your phone usage. Don’t trust your memory of how much you use your phone. You can install an app usage tracker to get good data. However, note that there are privacy concerns associated with free apps. Otherwise, add up the amount of time you spend browsing, texting, and playing games on your phone. At Smile Columbia Dentistry, we know that many of our patients had no idea how much time they were spending on their phones until they installed a tracking app. 

Next, check for the symptoms of text neck, including:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Neck pain and soreness
  • Taxed muscles in shoulders
  • Headache, especially occipital headaches

Neck stiffness is an early sign of text neck. You might notice that you’re having trouble moving your neck after heavy smartphone use. Pain in your neck might be a dull ache, or it could be sharp electric nerve pain. 

Your shoulder muscles might feel weak, which can be an actual weakness, or it could be that they’re not in a good position and are putting too much effort into supporting your neck and head. 

Headaches are also common in people with text neck. 

How to Ease Text Neck

There are many things you can do to help ease text neck. Here are a few tips:

  • Look down with your eyes: Tilting your eyes down can reduce or eliminate bending
  • Hold the phone up or further in front: These will reduce the amount of bending you do
  • Set up a phone or tablet station at work: If your desk or cubicle will support your phone at a more comfortable angle
  • Use a smartphone mount in the car even when you’re a passenger. Especially if you’re on a road trip, checking your phone while riding can lead to a lot of painful strain.
  • Use different postures: Try lying back with the phone supported above or in front of you when at home.
  • Exercise your neck: Bend your neck from side to side, backward, and in a rotary motion to stretch and exercise neck muscles. You can take this a step further by doing yoga. There are several yoga positions recommended for helping with text neck. 

These can help reduce the risk of developing text neck. However, if your symptoms don’t respond to these steps, Columbia TMJ dentist Dr. Hahn can evaluate you for TMJ.

How TMJ Can Contribute to Text Neck

Text neck is caused by your muscles having difficulty supporting your head. TMJ can make this worse because improper jaw position can decrease the efficiency of your jaw and neck muscles, leading to more soreness in the neck, back, and jaw. Even without the strain of a forward head posture, many types of neck pain are linked to TMJ

If you’ve tried a number of strategies to ease your text neck but aren’t getting good results, TMJ treatment can help. Columbia TMJ dentist Dr. Hahn can determine if TMJ treatment is right for you. 

Relief from Neck Pain in Columbia

To learn whether TMJ is contributing to your text neck, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry today, located just off Lake Murray Blvd, near I-26.