Is Smartphone the cause of your neck pain?

Smartphone causing neck pain

Use of a smartphone for long periods has emerged as an important cause of neck pain. It is also referred to as “Text Neck”. Smartphones have become an essential part of life. Therefore, we need to learn about the correct neck posture, do’s and don’ts while using a smartphone.

It is hard to imagine a world without smartphones. Smartphones have taken over our lives. Right from staying in touch with family or friends, online shopping, online classes to ordering food, a smartphone can do anything. With the plethora of data, ease of doing things, entertainment available through smartphones, the time spent on these devices has gone up significantly. Therefore, a new form of addiction, called “Smartphone addiction” has also come to the fore.

How is the head supported on the trunk?

It is through the bones in our neck, namely the cervical vertebrae and the muscles that surround these bones. The cervical vertebrae act as a dynamic pillar which can bend and rotate to allow head movements and rotations in different directions. The muscles act just like the cables on a draw-bridge, pulling and stabilising the moving neck. If the cables are weak or worn out, the opening and closing of draw-bridge becomes difficult. Likewise, if the neck muscles become worn out due to repeated use or misuse, and lack of exercise, neck movements would be difficult and painful.

Let us look at the loads on the neck from a physics perspective. Imagine holding a 5 kg dumbbell in your hands at the level of shoulder close to your body. This would not be difficult at all. Now, completely stretch out your arm and hold the dumbbell at shoulder level. Holding it in this position after a few seconds becomes very difficult. Why, because the center of gravity of the dumbbell goes farther away from your center of gravity and your muscles have to work harder to keep the dumbbell up. This wears out the muscles in no time and you bring the arm down.

Effects of bending neck on muscles

Now, we have to apply the same concept to our head. When we bend our head forward, the center of gravity of head shifts forwards as compared to the body, which puts immense pressure on the neck muscles. This makes the neck muscles tired and causes neck pain. One can acknowledge this neck pain, on prolonged use of a smartphone in standing position. In a standing position, the smartphone is held mostly at lower chest level and head is bent down to look at the screen.

Loan on neck muscles

For every of 10 degrees forward bent, the load on the muscles of neck roughly increases by a factor of 100%. If you bend your head 60 degrees forward, the load on your neck muscles go up by 600%. That is too much to handle. It will lead to muscles becoming fatigued easily, just like a dumbbell in an outstretched arm. The weight of an average adult head is 5kg or 10-12 pounds in neutral position, but this will cause a lot more load on neck muscles if you bend your head to look at your smartphone screening.

Cause of neck pain- “Text Neck”

Text neck is a term that is used to describe the neck and shoulder pain that arises from a stooped neck. Stooping of neck while using a smartphone, reading or writing for prolonged periods can cause neck pain due to straining of muscles at the back of head and neck.

Cause of neck pain and Duration of smartphone use

Another factor is the time for which the smartphone is used in a head bent position. The more the time of use, the more would be the fatigue and exhaustion in neck muscles. Recent medical literature suggests correct posture and breaks of at least 20 minutes when using smartphones.[1] Another study came to a similar conclusion by measuring the electrical activity in neck muscles continuously in subjects using their smartphones in various neck positions.[2]

What to do while using a smartphone?

  • Keep your head straight.
  • Do not stoop over or bend your head too much.
  • Keep your forearm and arm supported.
  • Bring your smartphone screen up to your eye level instead of bending down.
  • Exercise your neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Do not use a phone while lying down in bed.
  • Keep your smartphone use time to a minimum.

Also read about Lumbar spondylosis.

Disclaimer- This is for the general awareness of the patients and cannot replace expert medical advice. Treatment of neck pain is decided by a clinician after necessary clinical examination and relevant investigations.

Need an answer? Ask your question in the comment section below.

References:

  1. Effect of duration of smartphone use on muscle fatigue and pain caused by forward head posture in adults.
  2. An analysis of the activity and muscle fatigue of the muscles around the neck under the three most frequent postures while using a smartphone.

Published by DR. HARNARAYAN SINGH

I am a Neurosurgeon and spine surgeon practising in Gurugram, India. Besides Neurosurgery, I love to read, travel and play tennis.

One thought on “Is Smartphone the cause of your neck pain?

  1. I believe this is the most common problem in today’s world and no one realises it. Thanks for this information

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