Keep your head up: ‘Text Neck’ can wreck your spine

A Nov. 20, 2014 NPR article is entitled: “Keep Your Head Up: ‘Text Neck’ Takes A Toll On The Spine.”

Illustration from Nov. 20, 2014 NPR article regarding ‘Text Neck’ topic. You can enlarge the image by clicking on it. That will enable you to read the text clearly.

The opening paragraphs read:

  • “Text neck,” the posture formed by leaning over a cellphone while reading and texting, is a big problem, according to the author of a newly published study in the National Library of Medicine.
  • Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, says the bad posture can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on the upper spine — sometimes for several hours a day, depending on how often people look at their devices.
  • “It is an epidemic or, at least, it’s a very common,” Hansraj told The Washington Post. “Just look around you — everyone has their heads down.”

[End of excerpt]

Very young children tend to have great posture; everything is functioning as it should

As a child, adolescent, and young adult I had terrible posture. In time I learned to (effortlessly) stand up straight, both figuratively and literally. I mention that good posture is something achieved without effort. It requires that the neck is free of tension. It’s something that young children possess as a matter of course.

We start to lose that natural capacity when we’re told, early in our schooling, to sit in chairs, hour after hour. We often sit for hours on end in chairs, in classrooms and at work. Add to that the endless viewing of screens, while pretty much immobile.

Sitting is the ‘new smoking’

[Update: In the years since I wrote the text which follows below I’ve learned that the issue with sitting was in earlier years exaggerated. Subsequent research has tended to conclude that a brisk walk for a certain amount of time each day will be sufficient to address the effects of hours of sitting. The research regarding the purported benefits of sitting/standing desks also appears, as I recall, to point towards a view that the benefits of such desks are not particularly impressive.]


Sitting is the ‘new smoking’, as an Oct. 24, 2014 CBC article notes.

If you happen to see photos of me in the Malcolm Campbell High School 1962-63 yearbook, you’ll see what I mean, in terms of my own posture when I was a kid.

In group photos from the yearbook, if I was sitting in a chair, I appeared to be sprawled across the chair, as opposed to a standard way of sitting. I appeared to be in a losing battle with the forces of gravity. It appeared that in the next second, I could fall off the chair and find myself sprawled across the floor. When I walked, I appeared to be dragging myself from one place to another.

When I drove a car, such as a late 1960s VW that I drove until it fell apart in the late 1970s, the back of my neck was tightened, as tightened as the muscles at the back of the neck can be, my chin was jutting forward, and the front of my rib cage was collapsed. At times, it took an effort to get my head up high enough so that I could see the road.

Alexander Technique

In time – in my late twenties, on the advice of Carol Cassis (Stewart), an MCHS 1962-63 classmate that I met in Toronto in the mid 1970s – I received instruction in a variation of the Alexander Technique, and my posture changed for the better. Exercises based upon the Feldenkrais Method were also included in the weekly individual and group lessons that I attended.

Carol Cassis had learned of the Alexander Technique as she was a musician in those days, and many instrumental musicians, as well as dancers, in Toronto and elsewhere, had turned to the Alexander Technique as a way to handle the physical demands of the hours of practice and performance required for development and maintenance of their skills.

Year of lessons

During a year of lessons, often twice a week – one of the best investments of time and money that I’ve made in my life – many changes occurred in my posture. In the course of the lessons, my rib cage expanded dramatically. Until that time, it had been unusually contracted, and appeared to be taking up the minimum amount of space that a rib cage can be occupying.

Changes at the emotional level were equally powerful. Change your posture, change how you see the world. Indeed, research indicates that sitting up straight and walking tall is good for energy and mood.

Sometimes a physical condition, such as iron deficiency anemia by way of example, can lead to a state of chronic tiredness that gives rise to a slumped posture. In such a case, the first step is to address the underlying condition, whatever it may be.

In the mid-1970s there was only one person that I knew of, in the Greater Toronto Area, who was conducting classes based on a variation of the Alexander Technique. Now there are many teachers in Toronto and elsewhere who teach the standard version of the technique. If you’ve had instruction in recent years, and have found the instruction helpful, please contact me. I’m always keen to learn about the work of Alexander Technique teachers.

Re-learning how to sit, stand, and walk

Re-learning how to sit, stand, and walk is one of the many things that, in the course of my life, have changed my life.

I also re-learned how to talk, in the late 1980s, which I’m pleased I did. The latter bit of re-learning changed the trajectory of my life. From that experience I also learned the value of evidence, and of evidence-based practice.

Prefrontal cortex

My story about my posture can be contextualized in this way. The one part of my mind/body that has consistently worked well, at all stages of my life, is my prefrontal cortex.

A person’s prefrontal cortex is a gift from one’s ancestors and the outcome of millions of years of human evolution. The capacity of this part of our brain is also the outcome of important life experiences, including early childhood experiences before the age of six, according to research about how the brain develops.

The mind/body is an integrated unit

Much research in recent years underlines, in a powerful way, that it makes more sense to speak of the body-mind (or the body/mind) rather than speaking of the mind and body as separate entities.


A March 16, 2016 article is entitled: “Despite your fancy standing desk, you’re still sitting too much.”

A March 21, 2016 Quartz article is entitled: “There’s not enough evidence to say standing desks are good for your health.”

A July 27, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “One hour of activity needed to offset harmful effects of sitting at a desk: Risk of dying increases among desk-based workers who sit for eight hours and do low amounts of exercise, new research finds.”

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