Your Smart Phone Could Be Rapidly Aging Your Spine
Chances are that you probably haven’t given much thought to how your neck and back are faring in the era of the smart phone – most people are too absorbed in their phones to, but studies show that you most certainly should think about your cell phone posture! It’s practically a reflex these days to pull out our smart phones when we’re standing in line, sitting at the airport or riding the
MAX train. And while it’s great that we rarely need to venture beyond our pockets for entertainment and instant communication, our bodies are retaliating to our cell phone habits with next pain and upper back pain.
So, what exactly are these contemporary conveniences doing to our bodies? A surgeon-led study that published in Surgical Technology International assessed what impact surgeons’ head and neck posture during surgery—a posture similar to that of smart-phone texters—has on their cervical spines. With each degree that our heads flex forward (as we stare at a screen below eye level), the strain on our spines dramatically increases. When an adult head (that weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position) tilts forward at 30 degrees, the weight that the spine has to carry because of this angle climbs to a staggering 40 pounds, according to the study. This means that your neck and your upper back muscles have to work that much harder to hold the weight of your head tilt as you look at your phone. Now, multiply that by however long you’re on your phone, and you can see why physical therapists are seeing an uptick of patients in our clinics with “text neck”.
How pervasive of a problem is this? According to the study, the average person spends 14 to 28 hours each week with their heads tilted over a laptop, smart phone or similar device. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 700 to 1400 hours of strain and stress on our spines. As a result, the number of people dealing with headaches, achy necks and shoulders and other associated pain has skyrocketed.
Over time, this type of poor posture can have a cumulative effect, leading to spine degeneration, pinched nerves and muscle strains. On the more severe end, poor postures from device usage can lead to bulging discs in the spine, that are not be reversible once developed.
Physical therapists can help people learn how to interact with their devices without harming their spines. Your Stride Strong PT can not only help manually ease soft tissue tension and strain, but also will prescribe an at-home program that includes strategies and exercises that focus on preserving the spine and neck, preventing long-term damage.
Exercise is an important part of taking care of our spines and our health as we age, but what we do when we’re not in motion matters, too – hold we hold ourselves and our sitting, standing postures make a big difference in the longevity of our spines. So next time you pick up your smart phone or curl up with your e-reader, do a quick check of your head and neck posture. Lift your phone up to your eyes, install a cell phone case gripper (a button on the back of the phone) so you can lift it up better, prop your elbows on the table as you read your phone in your hand…. or simply train yourself to “unplug” more. Your body (and maybe your mind) will thank you for years to come.
Doctor of Physical Therapy, Director at Stride Strong Physical Therapy