With the rapid advances in mobile technology, we are now more ‘glued’ to our smartphones than ever. Gaming apps such as ‘Angry Birds,’ ‘Clash of Clans,’ and ‘Candy Crush’ help keep boredom at bay while we ride buses and trains. There are increasingly more ways to stay connected with our friends and family via ‘Facebook,’ ‘Instagram,’ and ‘Snapchat!’
There is no doubt our smartphones and their apps can help improve our lives by giving us suggestions on things we need (and don’t need of course), where to eat according to what we feel like and even how to shop in an app called ‘StegWay!’
With all these advantages, sadly there will be consequences too. Let’s face it – being so engrossed and attached to your smartphone can hurt!
The health industry has coined this ‘text neck,’ where your neck, shoulders, mid and even lower back are sore and aggravated due to repetitive strain injury increasingly common in people (and kids) being hunched over their smartphones
What Actually Causes ‘Text Neck?’
Plain and simply, it’s how we look at our smartphones.
1) Looking down for prolonged periods
2) drooping your head forward
3) shoulders roll forwards and lift up to your ears
– do these three positions put together sound familiar?
Drooping your head for extended periods alters the natural curvature of your neck. Over time, muscles and soft tissues are strained and joints suffer wear and tear.
Our neck muscles and joints, in their correct position and alignment are designed to support the weight of our heads, which weigh on average, 4 to 6 kilograms, constituting about 5-8% of overall body mass.
Studies have shown that for every 3cms that your head is held forward, the amount of load or tension on our neck muscles and joints doubles! Thus, looking downwards at your phone, with your chin tucked into your chest can exert almost 30kg of force onto your neck!
It must be noted that text neck can also contribute to other health issues. Aside from neck and shoulder pain, headaches and jaw pain, slumping over phones can restrict your lungs’ capacity to expand fully due to the pressure on the rib cage1. Having less concentration of oxygen circulating in your body will cause your heart to pump harder in order to properly distribute more blood to the body1.
A Study in 2016 found that prolonged smartphone usage actually CAUSES faulty postures such as forward head posture, which we have just described, slouched posture and rounded shoulders2.
Further, the study discussed how structural problems caused by the faulty postures could lead to respiratory dysfunction, finding that 83% of their patients with neck pain experienced changes in breathing patterns2.
The study concluded that prolonged usage of smartphones negatively affected both posture and respiratory function proportionally, meaning the longer the time of usage, the bigger impact on posture and breathing2.
Three Ways to Tame Text Neck
Number One: Fix Your Posture!
Take a good look at your side-profile in a mirror, reflective window or ask a friend to see whether you are standing correctly (straight!). An imaginary vertical line should run from your ear to your shoulder.
Number Two: Stretch!
Should you notice the vertical line is not lining up your ear and shoulder, first, lift your chin and take your upper back backwards. Next, pull your shoulders into alignment with your ears, paying close attention to that vertical line.
This simple movement, coupled with deep, slow breaths can also help you minimise stress and reduce some neck and shoulder pain3.
Number Three: Raise!
Set a good example for your kids, colleagues, family, friends and fellow travelers by raising your smartphone up to eye level, rather than allowing the head to droop downwards and forwards.
Bonus Tip Number Four: Take a Break!
It really is this simple – if you are in the office or at home, put the phone down, stand up and walk away for a good 10 minutes. This will give your eyes, head and neck (and brain) a much needed time-out.
If you are on the train or bus, again, put the phone down and focus on what is happening outside of your window. Perhaps smile or make conversation with a fellow passenger!
As we have discussed, our smartphones are an integral day-to-day tool – and that is of course, a good thing. They are allowing us to essentially be smarter – giving us information we require on the spot, rapidly. They help us save time, thus allowing us to direct our attention to what matters most. They allow us to work and communicate with virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime, increasing our output and efficiency.
Just bear in mind – we are of course, smarter than our smartphones. We operate them. They are a tool to help us make life a little bit easier, but should not take over our lives – and certainly not shorten them!
Bear in mind the result of the study showing us that using a smartphone for a prolonged duration could negatively impact both posture and respiratory function.
For the sake of our health, and longevity, it’s vital that we pay attention to the duration of usage as well as our postures while using our smartphones.
- The effect of smartphone usage time on posture and respiratory function.
J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Jan; 28(1): 186–189. Published online 2016 Jan 30. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.186