Health & Wellness

Texting neck: How hunching over your smartphone stresses your spine

That phone you can’t live without can be a pain in the neck, literally. 

Bending your head to text or browse puts lots of extra stress on your cervical spine, but there are ways to be a smarter user of your smart device.

Dr. Ken Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon in Poughkeepsie, New York, set out to measure the impact that the typical texting posture —head tilted forward, shoulders drooping — is having on our bodies.

An adult head weighs 10-12 pounds in a neutral position, but by tilting it forward, the forces it exerts on the neck can surge—up to 60 pounds when the head is tilted by 60 degrees, Hansraj found in a study recently published in the journal Surgical Technology International. That may lead to “early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries,” the study found.

Today
The weight seen by the spine increases when bending the neck at varying degrees, Dr. Ken Hansraj writes in his study.

Hansraj sees lots of patients hunched over their devices, which can result in back and neck pain. When one man kept having problems, it turned out he spent four hours a day playing games on his iPad, heads down.

“You can call it an epidemic. Wherever you go, just look around: People are heads down into their phones, especially teenagers,” Hansraj told TODAY.

“I’m not against technology. My message is really simple: just be cognizant of where your head is in space.”

Here are his tips for avoiding neck pain when using your smartphone:

  • You don’t have to necessarily bring your device up to eye level, he said. Your eyes have a range of motion, which allows you to look down at your phone without tilting your head.
  • To keep the joints in your neck limber, move your head from left to right several times and touch your ear to your shoulder on both sides, Hansraj said.
  • Another simple exercise is to place your hands on your head to provide some resistance as you push your head forward, and do the same as your push your head back. This strengthens the ligaments and muscles that support your neck, he noted.
  • Finally, when standing in a doorway, extend your arms and push your chest forward. This stretches and strengthens “the muscles of good posture,” Hansraj said.

He recommended doing the exercises once or twice a day. They only take a few minutes, he said, but you’ll have a better day and a better posture.

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