Apr 7 2015
While a smart phone, tablet, or computer screen by themselves don’t cause you harm (at least not your neck,) the posture we inevitably assume while using these devices is causing some serious harm to necks, shoulders, and spines all over America. The prevalence of people with eyes glued to their phones has led to a new medical condition, informally tagged as “Text Neck.” Studies reveal that 90 percent of people who use smart phones hold their necks at least 10 degrees forward of neutral alignment while texting.
Whether we realize it or not, our natural, upright posture starts degrading as we strain, slouch and bend to meet our electronic screens. With the average person on their devices between 2-4 hours every day, that adds up to 700-1,400 hours every year in an unnatural position. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, youth between 8 and 18 years old spend upwards of 7 ½ hours a day texting, checking social media, emailing, or gaming. The average time we spend on a smart phone every day tripled between just 2010 and 2011, and has continued on an upward trajectory since then.
The result is a lot of physical symptoms of pain and stiffness. In fact, a 2011 study published by the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics revealed that 53 percent of mobile phone users suffer numbness or neck aches. The problem is that the human form was meant to be upright, but when we bend our necks and crouch to use our phones, our heads – which weight about 10 pounds when upright – start putting more stress on our upper vertebrae to stabilize. That 10-pound head essentially weights 27 pounds when held at a 15-degree angle, 49 pounds at 45 degrees, and takes 60 pounds force to hold up at a 60-degree angle. All of that burden ends up straining the upper fibers of your trapezius muscles and stretches and starts pulling your spine out of alignment.
With 2.19 trillion texts sent every year by U.S. smart phone users, doctors are just starting to understand the magnitude of the problem – and are seeing a steady stream of text neck patients coming to them. What do they think is a prognosis if people don’t change their postures and patterns of phone use? Medical experts point to the fact that slouching reduces lung capacity by up to 30 percent, contribute to vascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety, not to mention the risk of chronic pain. A study in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback reported that 83 percent of subjects reported some hand and neck pain during texting. The data showed that they were also more tense, holding their breath, and had increased heart rates while texting, gaming, and using their phones. The scary thing is that they reported being relaxed at the same time.
Doctors and chiropractors also foresee a pandemic of long term issues from the problem because the old wives’ tale turns out to be partially true; if people stay in the “text neck” position too long and their bodies get out of alignment, they may start being frozen like that over time, losing natural posture and range of motion. Dr. Tom DiAngelis, president of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Private Practice Section, compares the long-term impact of text neck to bending a finger back all the way and holding it there for an hour, every day. After a while, the finger just wouldn’t bend back correctly.
Meanwhile, proper posture elevates testosterone and serotonin, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and has been linked to positive personality traits. The good news is that you don’t have to abandon your smart phone, toss your iPad in the trash, or stop playing your favorite video game just yet.
Here are some ways you can improve your posture and practice healthier phone habits:
- Instead of craning your neck at an angle to look down at your screen, hold your phone up at eye level.
- Download a dictation app so you can hold the phone to your mouth and speak any messages that will be converted into texts instead of typing.
- Take a lot of breaks when using phones, devices, and computers, especially when you’re at work and stuck at your desk for a while. Get up, walk around, stretch, and do something that lets you keep active and change positions.
- Exercise regularly to work out the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back, and drink lots of water, which helps ease stress in your entire body.
- Communicate with friends and coworkers with a voice mail or walk over to their desk and chat face-to-face. When you’re with people at a restaurant, café, or in a social setting, turn your phone off and put it away.
- Focus on your posture, breathing, and the relaxation of your neck, shoulders, arms, and fingers as you work or use on your phone.
Of course if you’re feeling any sort of pain or discomfort, whether you realize it’s text neck or not, come in for an appointment and we can evaluate your daily phone use, make recommendations for healthier posture, and offer physical therapy and other chiropractic care.