Working as a physiotherapist in private practice means that I see my fair share of people reporting neck pain that is interfering with their daily life. In recent years however, physiotherapists around the world have noticed a worrying trend: neck pain and degeneration is becoming more common and occurring at a younger age.
Scientists and doctors have linked this new phenomenon to the use of mobile phones, with recent research showing that smartphone users are spending an average of four hours each day staring at their device (that's 28 hours a week, 121 hours a month and 1450 hours each year!). This technology is part of our society and here to stay. So luckily for us, preventing text neck isn't about never using your phone, but instead, being a bit more clever about the ways in which you use it.
What causes text neck?
The muscles in our body have been designed to switch on and off as needed, to achieve our daily movements. Problems such as text neck can occur if we repeat a movement too often or hold a position for a long period of time. In these cases our muscles may become tight and overworked, while the muscles that perform the opposite movement become stretched and weak.
Have a look at the picture below. On average, when we stand upright our neck muscles support a weight equivalent to 5-6 kilograms. As we look further down towards the ground, the muscles in the back of our necks become stretched which makes them less effective. Simultaneously, the lower down we look, the more force our muscles are required to support. Sixty degrees of neck bend is equivalent to the weight of an eight year old hanging off your neck - for four hours a day! Eventually our muscles become tired and spasmed, producing stresses on the joints in our spine which in turn leads to degeneration and pain.
So how can we fix it?
Slouching has nothing to do with laziness - in most cases people slouch because their body is accustomed to doing so. The key to changing your everyday posture is understanding that your posture is a habit. We have to replace a habit of slouched posture with a habit of spinal alignment.
Here are some ways you can adjust your everyday lifestyle to improve your posture:
When you're standing:
Look at yourself sideways in a mirror and draw a straight line from your ears to your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Remember how standing like this feels and try to repeat it throughout the day - especially when using your phone!
When using your phone in a standing position, hold your arms close by your side and lift the height of your phone to reduce the amount your neck has to bend to see the screen. If your hands are full and you're taking a phone call, use a headset or speaker mode instead of squashing the phone between your shoulder and ear.
When you're sitting:
It's not just phones that can cause these symptoms. People of all ages also use computers in postures that will place great strain on our necks and backs. There are many small adjustments you can make that result in a huge improvement. Consider the following for optimum spinal support at your workstation:
- feet flat on ground
- knees at 90 degrees
- hips at 90 degrees
- screen at eye height (or slightly lower)
- shoulders relaxed with arms close to trunk
- elbows and wrists supported
This position is also useful to support your spine when sitting and using your phone. Just make sure to hold the phone in a comfortable position for your neck.
The Final Message!
Smartphones are a massive part of our day-to-day society, so awareness of the way we use them is really important. Even if you have already noticed that you are experiencing neck pain, changing the way you use your phone can be a big step towards improving your pain or preventing it from worsening.
If you're not sure where to start, wanted more information than this blog can give you, or are already experiencing neck tightness and pain that won't improve by just adjusting the way you use your phone, our friendly physiotherapy team are trained to identify the causes of pain and develop a program to help you live your best, pain-free life.
So, next time you find yourself looking down at your phone, take the time to straighten up and support your neck, because text neck is a literal pain in the neck.......but it doesn't have to be!
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