Texting is a Pain in the Neck
Look around when you're out in pretty much any public place--a waiting room, a restaurant, on a train. Chances are good you will see lots of people slumping forward, with their heads hanging down. Chances are also good you are familiar with the action that precipitates this positioning: using a smartphone. Whether texting, checking email, or reading our friends' latest and greatest status, we all tend to lower our heads over the phone to get the best view of the small screen. However, new research suggests this very common posture may lead to early degeneration of the spinal discs in the upper back and neck, muscle strains, and pinched nerves.
The study, which was conducted at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City, found that the typical posture of a smartphone user places a tremendous amount of pressure on the upper spine that can cause a lot of potentially serious problems over time.1 Rather than using subjects, the scientists experimented on realistic models of the cervical spine. They analyzed the varying amounts of stress placed on the neck area based on the degree to which the head is bent forward.
When we remain in an upright position with the head facing forward, the average head weights between 10 and 12 pounds and does not place significant pressure on the spine. But as you lower your head forward, the influence of gravity and the principle of levers multiplies this weight several times over. The testing showed that at a 15-degree head angle, there was 27 pounds of pressure placed on the spine. At 30 degrees, that increased to 40 pounds of pressure, and a 45-degree position translated to 49 pounds of pressure. When the models reached a 60-degree tilt of the head, a whopping 60 pounds of pressure was placed on the spine.
Unfortunately, it is this 60-degree positioning that is the posture most commonly used for texting and other smartphone endeavors. And, according to recent research from Analysys Mason, average smartphone use nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, going from 98 minutes to 195 minutes each day.2 Whether this time is spent sending out vital business emails or showing off selfies on snap chats, it will likely add up to a major pain in the neck for most people.
The cervical spine, composed of the top seven vertebrae found in the neck area, is particularly vulnerable to certain problems because it supports the weight of the head and offers a range of motion. Poor posture, such as when the head is thrust forward and the shoulders rounded in, can produce misalignment of the vertebrae, muscle pain, degenerating discs, or wear and tear that leads to arthritis. And once you start developing these kinds of problems, most of the medical treatments that will be recommended are no picnic. They generally range from steroid injections to reduce inflammation in the area (with potential risks including infection, fractures of spinal bones, and nerve damage) to muscle relaxants for reducing painful spasms (with side effects like drowsiness, urine retention, and swelling around the face, mouth, or throat) to surgery for relieving pressure on spinal nerves (involves the dangers of anesthesia, risks of spinal cord damage, and a long recovery period).
Before you start down any of those roads, however, you might want to consider some natural alternatives. First of all, use a little common sense and stop, or at least modify, the behaviors that are causing the problem to begin with. Try to cut back on smartphone usage and try to look down at the screen with your eyes rather than your head when you do use it. Be aware of your posture when you are holding your phone. In fact, focus on maintaining good posture throughout the day as you sit, stand, and even walk.
If you have begun to experience frequent back or neck pain, see if massage, chiropractic, or acupuncture rids you of the problem. Start performing gentle yoga poses or other exercises that focus on improving flexibility in the area and you may find relief to be fast, easy, and enjoyable. And don't forget, there is also herbal/nutraceutical support to help reduce pain and inflammation and protect and repair damage to the cervical discs in the neck.
- 1. Firger, Jessica. "OMG, you're texting your way to back pain." CBS News. 14 November 2014. Accessed 30 November 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/omg-youre-texting-your-way-to-back-pain
- 2. "Consumers Use Smartphones for 195 Minutes Per Day, But Spend Only 25% of That Time on Communications." Analysys Mason. 2 May 2014. Accessed 1 December 2014. http://www.analysysmason.com/About-Us/News/Insight/consumers-smartphone-usage-May2014-RDMV0/.