Smartphones Can Be a Pain in the Neck


Courtesy of Dr. Ken Hansraj M.D.

Our smartphones could be making us sick. We spend so much time looking down at our phones that “text neck” has become an issue worldwide.

“It is an epidemic or, at least, it’s very common,”Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, told The Washington Post Nov. 20, 2014. “Just look around you, everyone has their heads down.”

As students, we spend plenty of time straining our necks while reading, taking notes, and looking at our laptops. Add the amount of time we spend looking at our tablets and phones and we are putting too much stress on our spines.

A study published by Hansraj looked at the stress we are putting on our necks and spines. According to the study, people are spending 700 to 1,400 hours per year — that’s two to four hours a day — looking down at their mobile devices. And people under 30 years old might be worse. They spend an additional 5,000 hours on their phones.

Why does looking down for long periods of time cause so many problems? The average head weighs close to 12 pounds. When we bend our necks down, it increase the pressure on the spine. According to Hansraj’s study, tilting the head at a 15 degree angle can cause 27 pounds of pressure. At 30 degrees, it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds. This additional weight pulls on the spinal column and can cause damage to the nervous system. The entire body is affected.

You may have “text neck” if you feel tightness in your shoulders, soreness in the neck or have chronic headaches. It can cause more than just neck pain or discomfort. It can permanently change the curve of the neck, resulting in pinched nerves and herniated disks. It can also lead to spine degeneration that may require surgery. Prolonged stress can reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent, which affects the immune system and can cause severe headaches, neurological problems, depression and even heart disease.

The good news is there are things we can do to relieve the pain and reduce problems. According to experts, small things like exercising or changing how we look at our devices can help. Instead of bending your neck, use your eyes to look down, or lift the phone up to your face. At the very least, reduce the time you spend looking down to 15 or 20 minutes and give your neck a break.

A few simple exercises can also make a difference. Tilt your head left to right several times and look right to left repeatedly. Or try the chin tuck. Sit up straight and hold your head up so your chin is parallel to the floor, then pull your chin and head straight back toward your spine. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and relax. This can make a big difference and can be done repeatedly throughout the day.

Finally, pay attention to any discomfort. Be sure to consult with your doctor if symptoms do not lessen or get worse. It could be a sign of other health issues.