Were you afflicted by the devastating epidemic, first recognised less than a decade ago, of people bending their necks to look at their phones? Then you had “text neck”, a disease that almost certainly never existed in the first place.
Photo by Bernhard Wang.
But it sure was fun to get mad about. Phones! Ruining our health! Of course they are! News articles reported on the condition with numbers that represented smartphone or mobile phone use, instead of actual numbers of people with text neck. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle drove the point home by pointing out that eight- to 18-year-olds spend seven and a half hours per day using entertainment media. NBC News pointed out that Americans sent 110 billion text messages in December 2008. The Washington Post wrote that text neck is a risk for 58 per cent of American adults… because that is the number of people who owned smartphones.
So, where did “text neck” come from in the first place? Florida chiropractor Dean Fishman trademarked the term in 2009, and founded a Text Neck Institute to treat the condition. He talked to the media about it, a lot, which may just have had the side effect of bringing in business.
Fishman told CNN that he diagnosed his first case of text neck in a 17-year-old who had neck pain, because he noticed during the visit that the teen used a smartphone. He later said that 90 per cent of his patients came to him complaining of text neck. Maybe this is true – it makes sense that the Text Neck Institute would attract people who text and have neck pain – but it’s hardly evidence of an epidemic.
In 2014 the term got a boost from a study that calculated the tension you put on your neck by bending it forward. Your 4.5kg head puts 27kg of force on your neck when you hang it down at a 60 degree angle, and that sounds bad. What angle do people usually text at? Do any symptoms result or does your neck just get stronger? The study didn’t address these questions. It was a computer analysis of an imaginary skeleton. That’s all. (Here is a sceptical take published at the time.)
Now, almost a decade into text neck’s reign of terror, we have results from a study that tried to figure out whether text neck is really a thing. Brazilian scientists compared the texting posture and neck pain complaints of 150 students aged 18 to 21, and found no correlation. In response, one spine specialist told the Daily Mail “Text neck isn’t an epidemic – it isn’t even a thing.”