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No, Texting Will Not Permanently Hunch Your Back

So, can chiropractors just chill?
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Just to be up front, yes, text messaging can be dangerous. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that, in 2011, more than 1,150 pedestrians were sent to the emergency room for injuries sustained while texting and walking. So, you know, heads up.

But the perennial fear for Millenial’s necks? That our compulsive need to text will leave our backs convext? Don’t fret.

It seems like the “All This Text Messaging Will Ruin Your Back” scare story is, if not as old as SMS, at least as old as smartphones. And each and every year, the fear of "text neck" is repeated, even though the articles themselves have to admit, "there’s no reliable estimate of the total number of people living with the stiffness, pain and muscle strain of text neck." Judging from the amount of articles it's everyone. Last month, The Telegraph was the latest to take up the mantle, citing a warning from the United Chiropractic Association that warned that texting caused poor posture and could take years off of your life.


Then it finally happened: someone who knew better snapped.

Harriet Hall at the blog Science-Based Medicine took on the UCA’s claims that link text messaging to hyperkyphosis. Kyphosis, she explained, is an exaggeration of the natural curvature of the spine, and the condition is called "hyperkyphosis" when the curvature exceeds 45 degrees. The Telegraph article explained how “elderly people with even a small degree of hyperkyphosis have a 1.44 times greater risk of mortality than those without. This is a similar figure to increased risk of death presented by a body mass index greater than 30, according to the UCA.”

If hyperkyphosis lowers life expectancy as much as obesity it seems like something to be avoided. But what’s the link between hyperkyphosis and texting? Hall argued that there isn’t one.

“Hyperkyphosis can be the result of vertebral fractures, congenital defects, infections like tuberculosis, or nutritional deficiencies like rickets. The ‘dowager’s hump’ deformity in elderly women is usually due to ‘wedging,’ a partial collapse of the anterior side of the spinal vertebrae from osteoporosis,” Hall wrote.

Hyperkyphosis is rare in young people, but postural kyphosis, however, is actually fairly common. You probably know it under the more familiar name “slouching,” and probably also realize that it isn’t permanent. It won’t show up on x-rays, since the problem isn’t caused by vertebral abnormalities. If you’re interested in correcting your postural kyphosis, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that “postural kyphosis corrects itself when lying down on a flat surface, or when the spine is hyper-extended…In fact, postural kyphosis is rather easily corrected with education about proper posture and some retraining on how to sit and stand correctly. Treatment does not need to include casting, bracing, or exercise. However, strengthening the back muscles can help with proper posture.”

Even when chiropractors set out to save the world from text-based back-hunching, they undermine their own point. In a “Texting Increases Back Pain” article in the Toronto Sun in 2011, the Kingston, Ontario chiropractor, Dr. Peter Pain—did he choose a profession to suit his name, or did he change his name for his profession?—said that the way to prevent your ligaments from deteriorating was to “stand up and stretch, look up, rotate your neck, and do so every 20 to 30 minutes.”

No problem, since I don’t know anyone who sits and sends texts for half an hour at a time without moving. As a matter of fact, the number of pedestrians wandering into traffic while texting is a testament to how not-a-problem this is. Thanks anyway, Dr. Pain.

The severe and health-threatening types of kyphosis are present from birth, caused by trauma, or the results of medical treatments, surgeries, or osteoporosis. The link to texting just isn’t there. Or as Hall put it, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame had hyperkyphosis, but I don’t think he even owned a cellphone.”

There’s dangers in how lethargic our lives are, sure, and there are dangers associated with texting, such as crashing into the car in front of you. And there's even real life discomfort that can come from too much "Flappy Bird." But hyperkyphosis? Man, chiropractors of the world: shape up.