Stop and think about what you're doing to your spine, right now, as you're reading this post. Are you looking down at a smartphone? Or hunched over a computer screen? Sitting up straight isn't just good posture--it also prevents spine degeneration or "text neck." Amit Chowdhry of Forbes.com explains why he's going to be aware of how he looks at his mobile phone from now on.
Did you know that looking down at your mobile device for hours every day can be detrimental to your spine? The chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine Dr. Kenneth Hansraj conducted a study about how one’s posture while texting affects the spine and published it in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The study is entitled: “Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head.”
Most people have a tendency to tilt down their neck while sending and reading text messages. While standing at a neutral state, the force to the cervical spine is about 10 to 12 pounds — which is the weight of the average human head. The force to the cervical spine increases as the neck moves forward at different angles. The force increases by about 27 pounds at a 15-degree angle, 40 pounds at a 30-degree angle, 49 pounds at a 45-degree angle and 60 pounds at a 60-degree angle. The poor posture — which is known as “tech-neck” — may cause degeneration of the spine.
“It is an epidemic or, at least, it’s very common,” said Dr. Hansraj in an interview with The Washington Post. “Just look around you, everyone has their heads down.”
If this epidemic keeps up, people may need spinal care early on in life. The pressure on the spine doubles for every inch that the head tilts forward. The “tech-neck” effect is comparable to bending a finger all the way back and keeping it there for around an hour, said the former president of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Private Practice Section Tom DiAngelis via CNN.
People spend an average of about two to four hours per day with their head tilted to read text messages, e-mail, social media, e-books, print books and magazines, adding up to about 700 to 1,400 hours per year. High schoolers spend more time on their mobile devices, which averages at 5,000 hours in the “tech-neck” position per year.
By stretching the spinal tissue for long periods of time, it can get sore and inflamed. This can cause pinched nerves and herniated disks. Some doctors are already working with patients that have head, neck and back pain caused by “tech-neck.”
It may not be possible to completely stop tilting the head while using mobile devices. However, people should try to look at phones with a neutral spine and avoid tilting their heads down for extended periods of time. Dr. Hansraj recommended that people look down at their mobile devices by moving down the eyes in favor of bending the neck. Having good posture involves keeping one’s ears aligned with the shoulders.
Sitting at a desk all day also causes spinal issues. Office workers are recommended to get up and stretch regularly. Computer monitors should be kept in a straight position so that your neck is not locked at a tilted angle for long periods of time.
Harvard researcher and social psychologist Amy Cuddy pointed out that there are other benefits associated with keeping one’s head up. Keeping your head up is a high-power posture. People that keep their head up show “elevations in testosterone, increases in serotonin, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk taking.” People that keep their head down generally have the opposite pattern.
If you have a friend or family member that spends a lot of time looking down at their mobile devices, I would recommend sharing this article with them because “tech-neck” is a serious issue. After reading Dr. Hansraj’s research, I have become cognizant about how I should look at my mobile devices going forward.