“Text Neck” & Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

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“Text neck” is a term that’s becoming more popular to describe general neck pain associated with texting. Text neck isn’t just a result of texting but includes widespread smartphone and tablet use in general. A recent segment on Huffington Post’s “Screen Sense” provides a brief overview into the problems screens (computers, phones, and tablets) are creating for our bodies. Eventhough the segment is very brief, I was surprised that there was no mention of muscles whatsoever!

thoracic outlet syndromeThis is a common scenario that I’m beginning to see more of in my practice. A client comes in for neck pain that is traveling down their arm and includes numbness and tingling in the hand. After speaking with them about their occupation, hobbies, etc. it becomes clear that they spend a lot of time on a computer, smartphone, and/or tablet. Most often, these symptoms end up being relieved by focusing treatment on the scalene and pectoralis minor muscles. These muscles can become tight and overworked from prolonged computer use and may compress nerves and blood vessels, creating the numbness and tingling down the arm. This scenario is generally described as “thoracic outlet syndrome“. Thoracic outlet syndrome can stem from numerous other causes and be more complicated than tight scalene muscles, but the effect is still the same…compression of the neurovascular bundle that originates between the anterior and median scalenes and continues under the clavicle (collar bone) down the arm.

In the HuffPost segment, Lori Leibovich mentions she is wearing a medicated patch and has an MRI scheduled to address her pain, but I have to wonder if any attention was given to the muscles in her neck? All too often the standard medical procedure for assessment and treatment of pain involves expensive diagnostic tests followed by surgery and/or prescription medicine. Rarely is manual examination of soft-tissue included in the assessment of pain, which is disappointing to say the least. Manual soft-tissue therapy (massage and bodywork) should be a primary step in the assessment and treatment for pain. It’s non-evasive, inexpensive, and feels great if done properly.

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