Is Text Neck really a thing?

text neck
© Dr. Kenneth Hansraj

Text Neck is having its fifteen minutes of fame as every website from the Atlantic to Vice to the Washington Post discuss a study by Kenneth Hansraj, a New York spinal surgeon. Most use weird analogies from babies to bowling balls to yes, aardvarks. He tells the Washington Post:

The problem is really profound in young people. With this excessive stress in the neck, we might start seeing young people needing spine care. I would really like to see parents showing more guidance.

This isn't new; Doctors and chiropractors have been complaining about it for years. There is even a Text-Neck Institute with lurid videos and graphics.

Physiotherapist Greg Lehman points out that there are lots of activities that have people looking down a lot that nobody complains about.

If you are worried about text neck than you are ignoring the activities that have had humans bending their necks for centuries. Reading books, playing chess, looking down at the sidewalk, knitting etc all require the neck to flex. Where is the outrage in the media against knitting? Against chess? We have always bent our necks, it is what we are built to do... The problem with text-neck is the same problem as any other prolonged position. We are meant to move. If you hold your head in ANY position for prolonged periods it is likely that you will feel pain. Ask a soldier on parade. That ideal upright position is a real pain in the neck.

It is really the same argument I have made about expensive adjustable standing desks and silly portable standing desks for coffee shops; just move.

my standing deskLloyd Alter/ my standing desk/CC BY 2.0

I will admit that after reading the articles, I rearranged my standing desk, raising my monitor on top of my Bannister Fletcher's History of Architecture, my fattest book, and getting out the keyboard so that I wasn't looking down on my macbook any more. All the ergonomics websites indicated that you should be looking straight ahead into your monitor at a standing desk, but in a notebook world that's not always possible, so I have avoided doing it; people using sitting desks are looking down at their notebooks so I figured it couldn't be that bad. I will admit that this is more comfortable.

But text neck is like death by sitting; neither happen if you just change it up a bit and move.

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