Your Smart Phone Could Be Progressively Straining 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, but studies show that you most certainly should. 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
subway. And while it’s great that we rarely need to venture beyond our pockets for entertainment, our
bodies are beginning to retaliate—and mourn the pre-texting days.

So, what exactly are these contemporary conveniences doing to our bodies? A surgeon-led study
published in the journal Surgical Technology International (described here in an NPR report) 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 seen by the spine climbs to a staggering 40 pounds, according to the study.

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.
Trained to address postural changes and functional declines, physical therapists are well-versed in
treating this modern-day phenomenon, widely known as “text neck.”

Over time, this type of poor posture can have a cumulative effect, leading to headaches, muscle strains, and various neck and upper back pain syndromes. Scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist can help people learn how to interact with their devices without straining their spines. The PT might help to improve and restore posture with hands-on mobilization techniques and prescribe appropriate posture training exercises and an at-home maintenance program that includes strategies and activities that focus on preserving posture and spinal mobility and preventing long-term pain issues.

Exercise is an important part of taking care of our spines as we age, but what we do when we’re not in
motion matters, too. 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. Your body will thank you for years to come.