yourPhysio is treating an increase in patients with neck and upper back pain. Computer use, tablets, smartphones or previously, just reading in bed bad habit were likely the causal factors. But now researchers are focused on communication via text, and the pain related to poor posture during prolonged smartphone use, according to a recent report in the international Journal, The Spine.
Our patients endure all of the above causal factors, but the demographics of smartphone use, particularly young patients who shouldn’t yet have back and neck issues, are reporting disk hernias and alignment problems, the study authors write in The Spine Journal.
In an X-ray, the neck typically curves backward, and what we’re seeing is that the curve is being reversed as people look down at their phones for hours each day, said study coauthor Dr. Todd Lanman, a spinal neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles.
The real concern is that we don’t know what this means down the road for kids today who use phones all day. Lanman and co-author Dr. Jason Cuellar, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, write that people often look down when using their smartphones, particularly when texting, as compared to browsing online or watching videos. Remember that ‘reading in bed’ comment? Now it’s using our phones or tablets that affect our spine, wrists and eyes!
Previous studies have also found that people hold their necks at around 45 degrees, and it becomes even worse as they sit, versus standing, the study team writes. The impact on the spine increases at higher flexed postures, they add.
While in a neutral position looking forward, the head weighs 4.5 to 5.5 kilograms. At a 15-degree flex, it feels like 12 kilograms. The stress on the spine increases by degree, and at 60 degrees, it’s 27 kilograms.
Lanman and Cuellar suggest simple lifestyle changes to relieve the stress from the text neck posture. They recommend holding cellphones in front of the face, or near eye level, while texting. They also suggest using two hands and two thumbs to create a more symmetrical and comfortable position for the spine.
Beyond smartphone use, the spinal surgeons recommend that people who work at computers or on tablets use an elevated monitor stand so it sits at a natural horizontal eye level. But with Windows software, it is more effective, and ergonomic, to have the most common ‘cursor use area’ at eye level. Now, this may change with the software or program being used; but change is good for postural awareness.
With laptops, I recommend a similar adaptation by using a separate keyboard and mouse so the laptop can be at eye level and still create a good ergonomic position while typing.
It is difficult to recommend a proper posture for smartphone users. If we raise the phone at eye level to avoid the look-down posture, it will add new concerns for the shoulder due to the elevated arm posture, now we create those dreaded rotator cuff issues. And even, frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis.
A more practical recommendation would be frequent rest breaks or some physical exercise that can strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles. Ask yourPhysio for a custom exercise plan for your specific work tasks.
Selfie? to self examine…no, get a friend to take a picture of you texting or using your computer. Check your posture. Bring it to yourPhysio for an Initial Assessment and we’ll correct your posture and give you the exercises you need to avoid pain.