Not only are our smartphones ruining our spines, they’re sapping our youthful necks, too, making them look old before their time. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s been pretty widely documented that constantly looking down at your smart phone and favorite electronic devices can cause chronic pain to creep up your spine — the term “Text Neck” was coined last year when a study showed that craning the neck over a cell phone to text, tweet, or check Facebook can exert from 10 to 60 extra pounds of weight on the head of an adult.
But there’s another aspect of Text Neck which has not yet been discussed — but which, to the youth and beauty minded, is even worse.
Dermatologists and plastic surgeons around the country are citing an increase in patients looking to address sagging jowls and wrinkled necks, which they say is in part due to the high tech age. “With such thin skin on the neck, looking down at your phone constantly can cause collagen and elastin to break down and lead to deep wrinkles and sagging,” says Stephen S. Park, president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS).
We’ll call it Text Turkey Neck.
The effects of all that texting on your spine can lead to a whopping 60 pounds of extra pressure. Now just imagine how that added weight and movement can stretch your neck skin. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD)
While holding and propping devices up to eye level is ideal, there are also other preventative measures you can take to strengthen neck skin’s resistance to repetitive movement. “Topical retinoid and retinol creams stimulate collagen and keep the skin elastic, and formulas with antioxidants fend off potential damage from other aggressors like UV light exposure, pollution and cigarette smoke, which can also lead to premature skin aging,” advises Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology.
The trick is to remember to apply these anti-aging creams to your neck daily. Additionally, wearing a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 on your face and neck every day will help protect against damaging sun rays that are the biggest culprit of aging to this delicate area of skin overall; and as a bonus, it will also help prevent skin cancer.
If you’re seeking a more dramatic intervention, options have abounded in the doctor’s office this past year. “Ultherapy uses ultrasound energy to heat tissue under the surface of skin, triggering the natural production of collagen to lift and tighten loose necks,” says Doris Day, MD, RealSelf Dermatologist Advisor. Day also says injecting Botox in the chin can tighten the jawline in less severe cases. And all eyes are on the pending FDA approval of ATX-101, an injectable that permanently reduces small pockets of fat, and has been clinically tested with success on sagging necks.
Digital device addiction can also lead to chronic pain problems. Tilting your head forward loads an additional 10 pounds on the upper back and neck, which can result in a condition known as Forward Head Posture (FHP), where the normal healthy curve of the skeletal neck is straightened, says chiropractor Evelyn Haworth, DC. “FHP causes the jaw to clench, which can result in TMJ and headaches, and can lead to long term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis and pinched nerves,” she adds. Studies have also shown that FHP can result in up to a 50 percent reduction in endorphin production, the natural opiates that help you sleep, experience feelings of well-being, and reduce pain sensations in the body.
Related: 3 DIY Fixes For Your Achy Neck
It all sounds like doom and gloom — but better postural habits can prevent and heal damage you may have already done. “When sitting or standing, pretend there’s a spotlight on your upper chest, and shine that light up and forward,” says Haworth. Proper neck positions during sleep can also go a long way in helping. Slumbering on your back with a pillow that supports the curve of the neck is best, and side sleepers should think, “chin up” instead of curling the head forward, she advises.
Another potential solution: Voice texting. By holding your phone up to your mouth to speak into it without tilting your head downward, you’ll avoid the movement that can cause wrinkles.
A couple of gadgets exist to address postural neck issues. Prism glasses show a 90-degree downward view, so that you can look straight ahead and see device screens in your lap. And Haworth is the creator of the Kacelia Tru-Align, an at-home floor system that resets posture and spinal alignment to relieve pain by targeting key points along the body with the help of pads and gravity. And let’s not forget that last option — you can put down the device and look up at the world, and simply stand up straighter like mom always told you.