by: Anne-Marie Mougeot B.Sc.Kin., D.O.M.P., D.Sc.O.
There is A TON of information out there about health and wellness. I know that it can get overwhelming and that it takes a lot of effort to try to follow and stay up to date with all of this information! On top of that, there seems to be conflicting information on what the best approaches are to being healthy and managing pain. With all of this information being shared, how do we know what and who to believe? Here’s where an informed, science-based approach can be helpful.
A very common topic of conversation in my office and at the gym lately, has been that of posture.
If you have been told that your neck hurts because you have been spending too much time looking down at your phone, then read on.
Like most people in our culture and society, you have probably been exposed to the idea that poor posture can cause pain. And you’ve probably heard that “text neck” is the reason behind many people’s neck pain. This is a common message that is being distributed around the internet, on social media, and communicated by many health care professionals. But does this idea really hold any merit?
To answer any question properly, we need to look at the evidence. A review of an Australian study that examined 1100 teens found that:
“The current results do not support the commonly held clinical and societal belief that neck pain is related to spinal posture.” and that “the association between neck pain and posture is weak”.
The following video does a great job of describing why Perfect Posture is a myth and doesn’t exist:
According to research in the past 10 years, the correlation between posture and pain is actually quite weak. Despite the idea of “bad posture” in our culture being associated with pain, we have to remember that there are many people with what would be considered to be “aligned spines” who also experience pain (think of soldiers who stand with their backs straight and necks pulled back), while there are many people with curvatures in their spine do not experience pain.
So, if you’re reading this article on your smart phone, don’t worry! It’s not going to damage your neck.
So, if text neck isn’t really a thing… then where does this idea come from?
Perhaps the association between slumped posture and pain comes from clinicians who are seeing people who experience pain (we don’t usually have people who are pain-free coming in for treatment) and are also slouching. However, we should also consider the possibility that could be that people who experience pain slouch because that type of posture is more comfortable for them, and not the other way around.
I know that if you Google search “text neck”, you will likely find news articles that say that “text neck is an epidemic”, or that it leads to back pain. Despite these claims, the evidence just doesn’t support the idea that a forward head posture causes neck pain. To put it simply, the idea of text-neck is based on bad science and fear mongering. Although your neck may get sore from being in that position for too long, holding your neck, or any body part for that matter, in any position for a prolonged period of time will likely, eventually cause discomfort, and will feel better once you start moving again or change position.
In other words, problem may not be the position of the head itself, but rather, holding that position for a long length of time. Think about it: if you are holding any one position for an extended length of time, or repetitively, eventually your body will start to send you signals that are telling you: “hey! It’s time to move your body!”. Once you start to shift or move a little, that achey, painful feeling goes away. Regardless of whether you’re in a “text-neck” position, slouching, or standing straight “in alignment”, holding any position for long durations without moving will likely lead to discomfort.
Finally, let us consider other activities that also place our head in a position that loads the neck similarly to texting: concentrating on playing a board game, riding a bike, filling out a form or hand writing a letter, knitting, drawing, playing lego. None of those activities have been labelled as being bad for us, and neither should texting.
I’ll admit that I used to buy into this idea as well, but I have learned that some of these very common ideas and beliefs are out dated, and that we don’t need to live in fear of “text neck”. Our bodies have the wonderful ability to adapt. We just need to move often, vary our positions, and know that if you are experiencing neck pain, it probably isn’t because of you looking down at your phone and that there are various other factors that can contribute to a pain experience.
For a more in-depth look at posture, and whether posture correction matters, check out this article.
Richards KV, Beales DJ, Smith AJ, O’Sullivan PB, Straker LM. Neck Posture Clusters and Their Association With Biopsychosocial Factors and Neck Pain in Australian Adolescents. Phys Ther. 2016 May 12.
Griegel-Morris P, Larson K, Mueller-Klaus K, Oatis CA. Incidence of Common Postural Abnormalities in the Cervical, Shoulder, and Thoracic Regions and their Association with Pain in Two Age Groups of Healthy Subjects. Pays There. 1992 Jun;72(6):425-31.