By Karen Longe MPT, KEL Physical Therapy
Did you know that using your smartphone could be aging your spine? Chances are, you may not have given much thought to your neck or back while you are catching up on Facebook posts, checking directions on Google maps, or reading Yelp reviews for the best local restaurant. We think nothing of pulling out our phones when we have a few minutes, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for our children at soccer practice, or while riding as a passenger in a car traveling to our next destination. While it is great to have entertainment, news, and the ability to communicate at our fingertips 24/7, our bodies are revolting with aches, pains, and fatigue that may not have been there prior to our smartphone days.
So what is actually happening to our bodies? Think about an adult head weighing 10-12 pounds. For every degree that our head flexes forward (as we look down at something positioned below eye level), the strain to our spine increases dramatically. When the adult head leans forward 30 degrees, the weight that the spine needs to manage is actually 40 pounds, according to a study published in Surgical Technology International.
Is this really that big of a problem? An average person spends 14-28 hours per week interacting with their smartphone, laptop, ipad, or similar electronic device. This translates into 700 to 1400 hours of stress and strain on our spines over a span of a year. With a 10-plus pound head in this forward position, people are experiencing a significantly higher frequency and duration of neck, shoulder, and back pain. This modern day phenomenon, widely known at “text neck,” can be successfully treated by a skilled physical therapist. Prolonged poor posture can have a cumulative effect on our bodies, leading to degeneration of the spine, muscle strains, and pinched nerves, resulting in pain.
A physical therapist can help people learn how to interact with their device without harming their spines. When interfacing with an electronic device, keep a posture of ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips. If your ears are in front of your shoulders, then you are promoting “text neck.” Try using your eyes to look down at the device rather than bringing your whole head and neck forward to look down. Physical therapists are trained in educating people in proper body mechanics and positions to manage this strain to their bodies, as well as instructing people in exercises and techniques that can counterbalance the excessive strain to our spine. The physical therapist will recommend a home exercise program that includes strategies and exercises to focus on preserving the spine and preventing long term damage. Exercise is an important part of taking care of our spines as we age, but what we do when we are sitting or standing in one place matters as well. So next time you pick up your smartphone or curl up with your ipad, do a quick check of your head and neck posture. Your body will thank you for years to come.