Is your smartphone causing your neck or back pain?

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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18 September 2015

Smartphones and your spine

‘Beep’, ‘Tap tap tap’, ‘Ping’. ‘Beep’, ‘Tap tap tap’, ‘Ping’… The constant cycle of texts, instant messages and tweets has been established to affect eye health, increase stress levels and result in poor sleep. Now, however, research shows that your mobile phone may also be the culprit of back pain and neck strain.

Anyone who has fallen asleep with their head in an awkward position knows what it is like to try to uncurl their neck the next day and feel the stiffness and spasms. In fact, looking down at your phone for a prolonged amount of time, or even in a continued stream of short bursts, has much the same impact on your neck and back.

Research carried out at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine has examined the strain placed on your spine with your head titled at different angles, mimicking the strain placed on your body when spending hours looking at Facebook on your phone.

What does the research say?

You are walking down the street, your head held in the neutral with the ears in line with the shoulders and the shoulder blades tucked back. Your head is exerting up to 12lbs on the spine.

Then you receive a text. Your head drops about 15ᵒ as you read it. Now 27lbs is exerted on the spine. You go to answer the text, and as you become engrossed in typing your head drops another 15ᵒ. There is now 40 lbs on your spine. While you have your phone out you may as well check Facebook. Your head drops to 45ᵒ and there is now 49lbs exerted on your spine. The load on your spine increases to 60lbs as your head settles at 60ᵒ while you are scanning the Facebook pages – that's the equivalent of 5 ten pin bowling balls, an average 8 year old child, or a Labrador!

It is estimated that the average adult spends two to four hours per day with their head tilted over their smartphone, which works out to up to 1400 hours per year with the head held in poor posture because of smartphones alone. For high school students this figure may increase to as much as 6400 hours per year.

What does this mean?

The results of this are not promising. Neck and back pain, typically associated with the ageing population, is becoming more and more common amongst the younger generation, as a new condition which is aptly named ‘text neck’. This is a form of repetitive strain injury where the muscles, ligaments and tendons are inflamed and damaged due to repeatedly moving or holding a joint in a way that puts it under undue strain.

What can you do about it?

Fear not, we are not going to suggest you ban your smartphone. We all know that this is really the safest way to eradicate ‘text neck’ but the truth is that this is no longer a realistic suggestion. We know that 54% of visitors to the A.Vogel website are using a smartphone and it is clear they have grown to dominate our working and leisure lives.

Instead, it is about how you use your smartphone. Cutting back on the hours spent poring over it will help to reduce the load on your spine, as well as giving you more time for different activities.

However, the best advice we have to offer is to think about how you hold your head when using your phone. Keeping your head in that happy neutral position will allow you to peruse Facebook to your heart’s content while not succumbing to the dreaded ‘text neck.’

So lift your head, bring your phone to eye level and text away…

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