Smartphones have made everyday life convenient and communication more efficient. Look around in any social setting and you’ll see people looking down at their phone to check emails, scroll social media and chat to friends.
However, as smartphone use grows increasingly popular, musculoskeletal therapists are seeing an increase in neck pain related to prolonged phone use. Dubbed ‘Text neck’1, a Swedish study of 20-24 year old adults found a strong correlation between the time spent texting and persistent neck pain. Furthermore, those adults in the study who spent the most time on their phone showed additional symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the arms.2
Researchers have observed that the majority of people using smartphones will flex their neck down to a 45 degree angle.3 An increase in neck flexion corresponds with an increase in force placed on the neck. At a 45 degree angle of flexion, the head now weighs 22kg instead of the 4-5kg it weighs in a neutral position.4 From a biomechanical perspective, this places excessive strain on the muscles, ligaments and discs of the neck and upper back.
Your average Melbourne city worker may spend an hour on the train a day, head tilted forwards at 45 degrees. This means the neck soft tissues are carrying 22kg of weight for a whole hour! The muscles are tender from fatigue and may develop ‘knots’. This may contribute to headaches. Over decades of neglect, the discs and joints of the neck may also show signs of degeneration.
What do I do?
Look up from your phone! If you need to spend a decent chunk of time answering emails, then where possible, wait until you can set yourself up at a desk with an ergonomic desktop computer.
If using your phone for short periods, try to lift your phone up a little higher, resting your elbow on a table or windowsill. This will reduce the degree of neck flexion.
Take regular breaks from your phone so that the tissues have a chance to rest.
Additionally, osteopaths may be able to use manual techniques to reduce pain and restrictions in the neck. We can also provide further ergonomic advice and exercises to strengthen the neck and upper back.
Despite the name ‘text neck’, it’s not just phones wreaking havoc on the necks of Melbourne’s inhabitants. Don’t forget to be conscious of neck flexion posture when using tablets and laptops as well.
By Claire Gornall – Osteopath at Mobility Health, Southbank
- Cuéllar J. M., & Lanman T. H. “Text neck”: an epidemic of the modern era of cell phones?, The Spine Journal. 2017;17(6):901-902:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.spinee.2017.03.009.
- Gustafsson E., Thomée S., Grimby-Ekman A., and Hagberg M. Texting on mobile phones and musculoskeletal disorders in young adults: a five-year cohort study. Appl Ergon 2017; 58:208-214
- Lee S., Kang H., and Shin G. Head flexion angle while using a smartphone. Ergonomics 2015; 58:220-226
- Hansraj K.K.: Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surg Technol Int 2014; 25:277-279