"It is an epidemic. Or, at least, it's very common," New York-based spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj told The Washington Post last week. He was referring to something that is being called "text neck," a purported condition of the spine related to the posture of bending forward to look at a phone.
Hansraj's comments came in wake of a short article on the matter that he published in an obscure medical journal called Surgical Technology International. Last week my colleague Olga Khazan mentioned the paper in a brief post for our site that included Hansraj's diagram of how flexing your neck increases stress on your cervical spine. It was an interesting account of the suggestions of one private-practice neurosurgeon. But the post and the illustration spread widely around the Internet, and the stakes elevated quickly.
In the past week, the study and the diagram have been published by hundreds of outlets, including The Chicago Tribune, Slate, NPR, Business Insider, The Sydney Morning Herald, NBC News, The Globe and Mail, Today, Time, Yahoo, Shape, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and many others. New York's headline, for example, was "Look at How Texting Is Warping Your Spine." At several publications, the story was the most popular post on the site. With claims of epidemic and implications of serious spinal damage, the story has elevated to something that maybe warrants a closer look.
Hunching over isn't ideal, and it's worth thinking about sitting or standing up straight when possible. But our necks are made to bend forward, and it's not something that's new to humans. Texting invokes the same posture as holding a book.
Or a baby.
Or a rock.
Physicists and engineers have taken to blogs and comments to argue over the accuracy of Hansraj's calculations. But whatever the exact numbers (we used Hansraj's in our illustrations here), it is true that there's more force on the base of the cervical spine when the head is bent forward. And the farther forward a person bends his head to look at their phone, the more force that puts onto spine. That's all true. The question is whether that matters, and if so, how much.