21 October 2016
People hunched over their mobile phones for hours are prone to neck and back problems. Photo: Xinhua
People hunched over their mobile phones for hours are prone to neck and back problems. Photo: Xinhua

Text neck and slipped disc: How to avoid them

People who use computers or spend hours hunched over their mobile devices can experience sore shoulders and neck pain, especially if they have poor posture.

If the problem is caused by a slipped disc, numbness can be felt in the neck, shoulders, arms or hands.

The worst case would be muscle paralysis in the arms and legs.

Sandra, 48, is a professional and a heavy mobile phone user. Six months ago, she began to feel pain in her shoulders and neck.

Her neck pain persisted after several massage sessions. One time, she was woken by a sharp pain and tingling sensation in her left forearm and fingers.

It turns out she had herniated disc between the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae, which pinched the seventh nerve root in the spine.

Slipped discs are most common in people between 30 and 50.

Those whose jobs involve plenty sitting like drivers, programmers and office workers are considered high-risk.

Meanwhile, due to the prevalence of mobile devices, a number of related problems have been on the rise.

When spinal discs come under pressure for a long time, it deteriorates and loses flexibility.

The damaged disc causes extreme pain when a person so much as coughs, sneezes or sits.

Depending on where and how much the slipped disc is pressing on the nerves or spinal cord, the symptoms vary.

Common symptoms would be pain during movement in the neck or lower back and numbness or tingling sensation in the neck, shoulders, arms, back, buttocks and legs.

The worst cases are muscle weakness, spasms or paralysis.

Early treatment includes medication and physiotherapy. Patients usually recover in four to six weeks.

But Sandra’s symptoms have not improved after two months, so she is considering surgery.

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) and artificial disc replacement (ADR) are two common surgical procedures for treating herniated or degenerative disc in the cervical (neck) spine.

In ACDF, the affected disc is removed and the space is filled with a bone graft or substitute which fuses with the vertebrae in three to six months.

Patients with one fusion usually regain the full range of motion but loss of motion increases with the number of fusions.

ADR, which has been around for the past 10 years, reduces patients’ risk of getting adjacent-segment disease.

Both are precise surgical procedures. Patients should ask their surgeon about their experience in such surgery and their success and complication rates.

They should also be well informed of the risks involved.

Most importantly, one should keep active, exercise regularly, maintain good posture and lift objects correctly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 13.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reports

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Specialist in orthopaedics and traumatology at Matilda International Hospital

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