Neck Pain and Phone Usage

By David Micallef

Technology has become a necessity in today's fast-paced and dynamic society.
Nothing has changed our lives quite like the smart phone. Have a look around you when you are in a waiting room, on the train, waiting in a queue, or with your kids at home. It seems everyone is looking down at their phones. Research shows 79% of the population aged 18-44 have mobile phones on them 24/7 (1). Young people spend about 5 hours a day on their phone, which is equivalent to approximately one third of the average human total waking hours (2).   This is backed up by what we see in the clinic at Physiohealth. Low phone users tend to average 2 hours per day, with the more extreme users up to 6 hours per day (online shopping anyone!).


What Causes Neck Pain?
According to one study(3), smart phone users who experience neck pain, have an overactivation of the upper neck and shoulder muscles. Overload of these muscles occur when the neck is positioned in a flexed posture for long periods of time. As a consequence of this excessive flexed neck posture, the muscles at the back of the neck and upper shoulder region have to work really hard to counter balance the forces.  Generally, an adults head weighs 4-5kgs in a neutral position, however by tilting it forward 60 degrees (the posture most smart phone users adopt!), a force of approximately 27kgs is exerted.(4). No wonder the poor muscles are calling out for help.

Prevention

  1. Hold the device at eye-level as often as you can
  2. Avoid looking directly down at your phone in your lap
  3. Try to avoid long sustained use of your smart phone (keep to under 20 minutes)
  4. Take breaks from the phone throughout the day
  5. Where possible use a correctly set up computer rather than your phone
  6. Remember all technology can affect your neck, phone, games, ipads and computers
   

Treatment
The team at Physiohealth would be happy to assess your neck and help implement appropriate treatment modalities. Assessing and correcting your smart phone use is essential, as well as some lifestyle modifications to reduce your reliance on your phone. Hands on therapy to release tight muscles and trigger points, mobilize stiff joints and give postural education will nearly always help in the immediate and short term, and longer term strategies such as stretches and postural strengthening of the neck, thoracic spine and scapular muscles are key factors in preventing recurrence.    

References

    <1> International Data Corporation. (2013). Always Connected: How Smartphones and Social Media Keep us Engaged. Retrieved from: https://www.nu.nl/files/IDC-Facebook%20Always%20Connected%20%281%29.pdf.

    <2>Gregiore, C. (2015). You Probably Use Your Smartphone Way More Than You Think. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/smartphone-usage-estimates_us_5637687de4b063179912dc96.

    <3>Yanfei, X., Szeto, G.P., Dai, J., & Madeleine, P. (2016). A comparison of muscle activity in using touchscreen smartphone among young people with and without chronic neck-shoulder pain. Ergonomics, 59(1), 61-72. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2015.1056237.

    <4>Pawlowski, A. (2014). Texting Neck. How hunching over your smartphone stresses your spine. Retrieved from: https://www.today.com/health/texting-neck-how-hunching-over-your-smartphone-stresses-your-spine-1D80302058.

    <5>Shoshany, S. (2015). A Modern Spine Ailment: Text Neck. Retrieved from: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck.

   
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