The relationship between smart devices and back pain is clear, and there’s even a trendy name for the ailment: text neck. Using a smartphone can overstress your muscles and damage your spine, with severe implications over a lifetime of digital device use. Here’s everything you need to know about smartphones and back pain.
What is Text Neck?
According to the Washington Post, “text neck” is poor posture from smartphone use. The name refers to the phenomenon of people hunching over their smartphones as they tap out text messages, often learning forward up to 60 degrees as they view tiny glowing screens.
Despite what the media may say, all ages of smartphone users are susceptible to text neck. Plus, it’s not just text messaging that puts users at risk. Any time you use your smartphone with improper posture, you’re placing an inordinate amount of stress on your neck and spine.
The human head weighs around twelve pounds, but the force on your neck as you lean forward becomes greater and greater. In fact, as the Washington Post highlights, with your head at a 60-degree forward angle, your neck must withstand nearly 60 pounds’ worth of weight.
60 extra pounds of weight has the potential to damage your spine beyond its years, even requiring surgery. Imagine carrying around an 8-year-old child on your shoulders for hours at a time- that’s the impact a phone can have on your posture and spine. Unfortunately, younger people are at a higher risk of spine damage because of the amount of time they use their devices.
Regardless of age or occupation, effects of text neck range from muscle strain to pinched nerves, herniated discs, and even curvature of the spine. The poor posture that it causes can also cause reduced lung capacity, headaches, neurological issues, depression, and heart disease.
Although back pain isn’t the most visible danger when it comes to obsessive smartphone use, it can ruin lives and cause unnecessary problems for people who don’t recognize the hazards before it’s too late.
Who is At Risk of Developing Text Neck?
While any smartphone user can back pain and other issues, experts posit that around 58 percent of American adults who own smartphones are at risk. People who bend their necks forward 60 degrees (or more) are effectively adding between 700 and 1400 extra hours of stress on their necks and spines each year.
High-schoolers, however, spend nearly 5,000 hours per year on their devices, experts say, and the long-term effects are only beginning to emerge. We may see entire generations of people requiring extensive spinal surgery as they enter adulthood and beyond.
Text Neck Case Study
If you need proof that back pain is a legitimate side effect of smartphone use, the existence of The Text Neck Institute should be enough to convince you. On the website, the Institute shares a case study that reflects the impact smartphones have on the average user’s spine.
A 25-year-old patient complained of recurring headaches, torticollis (tight muscles that prevent the head from turning), and neck and shoulder pain. She visited healthcare professionals after suffering pain for six months and received a diagnosis of text neck due to chronic postural strain.
Before she began treatment, the patient showed beyond normal extension and flexing of her spine. After four weeks of chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, and stretching exercises, along with advice on the appropriate angle at which to use her smartphone, the patient’s flexion and extension stats improved by 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
What do those figures mean? Treatment not only relieved the patient’s pain and stiffness but also helped reposition her spine properly. Those measures, along with her appropriate use of her smartphone and other devices, helped the patient’s posture improve.
Toward the end of her treatment, the patient even reported that she felt more energetic and that she was no longer experiencing headaches. In one month, her forward head posture improved significantly, and she was back to her regular routines, including using her smartphone (the right way).
How to Prevent Back Pain from Smartphone Use
The less we use our smartphones, the better. But for many people, younger generations and professional especially, using a handheld device is simply unavoidable. But there are ways to minimize the potential risk to your spine and your overall health.
Keep your head straight when using your smartphone, rather than bending your neck to view the screen from above. This may require that you hold the device higher up, using your arms rather than your neck muscles.
At the same time, try to avoid an imbalance when texting or writing emails. Many people use one thumb to swipe on their touchscreen devices, which can cause the muscles of one arm to work harder than the other. When you consider the position that you’re sitting or lying in as you use your device, your thumb positioning can impact a lot more than just your hand and wrist.
Like other posture-correcting methods, remembering to maintain proper smartphone use posture is difficult. However, the ability to reduce your risk of text neck and other back pain problems warrants the inconvenience.
Other means of posture correction can also help remind you to keep your neck aligned as you text. The Text Neck Institute’s mobile app, for example, shows a green indicator on-screen when your phone is held at the right angle for viewing. You can also add a beeping notification if the phone moves out of proper alignment.
Recovering from Back Pain Due to Smartphone Use
The Washington Post’s experts suggest using your eyes to view your device screen rather than tilting your head, but what if you already show signs of early text neck? Stretching may help alleviate strain even if you have dealt with incorrect posture and smartphone already.
Moving your head slowly from left to right, using your hands for resistance and stretching in all directions, and stretching inside a doorway can also help. Place your hands on the doorframe, extend your arms, and push your chest forward to strengthen muscles and help modify posture.
The Text Neck Institute’s case study also defines exercises that patients can use to recover from strain due to smartphone use. Those exercises include:
- Prone neck extensions: Lie on your stomach with your neck straight (forehead touching the floor/surface) and raise your head and shoulders up as if you’re trying to look at the ceiling. Hold the position for ten seconds, then lower and repeat.
- Shoulder stability: Lie on your stomach over an exercise ball or at the edge of a table, lifting your chest up. Pull your shoulders back toward your spine and bend your arms at the elbows. Keep your head neutral while rotating your upper arms (hands toward the ceiling). Relax then repeat.
- Snow angels: With your back to the wall, raise your arms up and make a “snow angel,” keeping contact with the wall. Move slowly and bend at the elbows while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Reducing the Long-Term Effects of Smartphone Use
Not only is back pain an indication of spinal damage, but it can also lead to stiffness, digestive issues, and even depression. For those who love their smartphones, starting with a regimen of exercises and posture modification can preserve your tech use. With the potential for long-term effects due to bad posture, it’s worth the preventative measures to keep from damaging your body permanently.