Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

text neck

noun [uncountable]

damage to the neck muscles and spine caused by frequently bending over a smartphone, tablet device, etc for long periods of time

'A newly coined condition – text neck – reveals that slumping over your mobile phone for hours on end heaps so much pressure on your spine, that we're giving ourselves long-lasting back problems.'

Mid Devon Gazette 9th December 2014

Do you think that smartphones are a ' pain in the neck'? Even if your mobile is your bosom pal, your answer to this question could in fact be yes if you interpret it literally rather than metaphorically. As we tap away for extended periods of texting, browsing and tweeting, we could, it seems, be putting ourselves at risk of getting text neck.

the root of the problem appears to be our heads which, weighing in at 4–5 kilos, are harder to support when we bend over

Text neck is a newly identified ailment which is caused by the neck being flexed for a long period of time, typically whilst hunched over some kind of hand-held device. The condition occurs because the joints and tissue in the neck are not naturally built to withstand being flexed for longer periods, so peering down at a screen puts them under stress which causes pain and irritation when the neck returns to its normal position. The root of the problem appears to be our heads which, weighing in at 4–5 kilos, are harder to support when we bend over – a little like carrying a weight at arm's length rather than closer to the body.

The idea of text neck as a 'new' condition has, predictably, caused a level of debate amongst experts, some arguing that it's no more than another manifestation of repetitive strain which could equally have been caused by bending over a book or any other object for long periods. There does however seem to be definite evidence of a sharp rise in the number of people reporting this kind of back and neck strain since smartphones and tablets became items of everyday use. The good news however is that there's an easy antidote to text neck in the form of attention to posture (sitting up straight and possibly holding the device a little higher), gentle exercising (periodically rotating shoulders or tucking the chin back towards the neck), and taking regular breaks away from the screen – so stand up and walk around when you've finished reading this article!

Background – text neck

The expression text neck has been around for the last four years or so, but hit the popular headlines in late 2014 when one of the first rigorous evaluations of the condition was published by New York spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj.

The term is one of the latest examples in a long succession of technology-related ailments which have been hitting the headlines for over twenty years. An early example was Nintendo thumb, coined in the 1990s to refer to repetitive strain injury caused by persistent use of video game controllers. This was later followed by BlackBerry thumb, a similar condition relating to compulsive use of hand-held PDA's like the BlackBerry. Wii elbow came along around 2007, a play on the expression tennis elbow describing pain in the arm joints caused by excessive Wii game play. The expression qwerty tummy popped up in 2008 as a way of referring to stomach upsets thought to be caused by bacteria on dirty keyboards. In 2010 it was discovered that laptops could also be perilous by inflicting toasted skin syndrome, a mottled skin condition caused by heat exposure when the device rests against the legs for extended periods. And at the more serious end of the spectrum, the condition of e-thrombosis is a newly recognized variant of deep vein thrombosis (= blood clots in a vein or artery) caused by sitting at a computer for long periods of time.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Bae.

This article was first published on 17th February 2015.

Open Dictionary


an unregulated form of capitalism that features financial deregulation, privatisation and low tax for high earners

add a word


A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog