For athletes turning out for fall sports this week, that pain in the neck or shoulder could be related to an off-the-field activity.
"I have never seen so many kids with neck pain before (than) in the last two years. Before that, I could probably see one, and it was probably because he got his bell rung in football," physical therapist Zach Kirkpatrick said. "But now, I just start seeing these chronic neck pain, teenage kids. Clearly something is going on here that we need to address."
Kirkpatrick is referring to the phenomenon of "text neck," characterized by a forward-slumped neck, rounded shoulders and tight chest muscles. The downward facing posture that most of us assume when using our phones can cause undue strain on vertebrae, ligaments of the cervical spine and muscles and "sets your neck up for failure."
For some patients, that could manifest as chronic neck pain or headaches. For others, symptoms might not be obvious until something like hitting a three-point stance on the football field or taking an overhead swing at a volleyball aggravates an underlying problem.
Kirkpatrick, facility manager at Athletico's Germantown Hills/Metamora location, said he most often treats overhead athletes in particular for problems caused by poor posture that affects their athletic performance.
"They're texting their girlfriend or whatever all the time or playing some sort of game on their phone when they're not playing baseball, and they really don't think about how their head and neck position really will affect their ability to throw and how that leads to more strain through the shoulders," Kirkpatrick said.
And the problems associated with "text neck" could lead to more serious injuries.
Take your deep neck flexors, for example. The small muscles help stabilize the head. If they're tired and overworked from looking down at a cellphone, they aren't working as well as they should be to protect your head and neck during a tackle.
Not just teens are susceptible to "text neck." While the symptoms are traditionally much more prevalent in an older population, Kirkpatrick said it's become increasingly common in adults who spend a lot of time at the computer.
"The posture is everywhere. We see it in practically every upper extremity to neck patient we see," Kirkpatrick said.
Holding your phone a little higher could help prevent the onset of "text neck." Same goes for your computer screen.
Kirkpatrick suggests taking a break every 30 minutes to do a few stretches of the neck, chest and shoulders.
"This is something a high school kid can do throughout class several times a day. They're fortunate enough to get up and walk around a little bit between classes and that's a good time to think about hitting those exercises."