The Link Between Smartphones and Neck Pain

Our growing smartphone addiction is becoming a real pain in the neck

Everywhere you go these days, it’s plain to see that smartphone use is on the rise, with some people averaging more than three hours of use a day. Also on the rise is the number of people chiropractors are seeing who come to our practices with symptoms of “text neck”. Text neck is a newly coined term to describe neck and upper back pain associated with prolonged periods of smartphone use.

If you have been experiencing more neck pain and headaches lately and nothing else in your life has changed, your digital devices like your smartphone, tablet, and e-book reader might be to blame. There is a clear link between smartphone use and neck pain, and it has to do with the poor posture many of us fall victim to when we have our faces buried in our phones for too long.

Your Posture during Smartphone Use

When you’re sitting or standing, your neck holds the weight of your head above your shoulders. At a neutral position, the neck bears the weight of your head, which is around 10-12 pounds. When your head begins to fall forward, even by as much as 15 degrees, the weight and pressure on your neck and spine increases to around 25 pounds. As that angle increases beyond 45 degrees, the amount of pressure your neck is bearing equates to 60 pounds or more. Over time, this ends up being a lot of added pressure on your neck, shoulders, and upper back, which leads to stiffness and pain.

With prolonged use of our phones, such as when you’re reading a news article on the bus or scrolling through social media during your child’s swim lessons, it can be easy to lose track of your posture and allow your head to fall more and more forward with each passing YouTube video.

Digital Devices Are Distracting Us from Maintaining Good Posture

So why are our digital devices specifically to blame for this type of neck pain? While it’s true that when we are reading a book, or painting a model car, for example, our necks are sometimes held in similar positions as when we are texting, the belief is that our smartphones engage us for longer periods of time, with fewer breaks.

Many of us end up so engrossed in our phone’s content, or the conversation unfolding via text, that maintaining good posture becomes less of a priority and it’s all but forgotten. After awhile, the strain of your neck holding your heavy head in an unnatural position leads to increasing amounts of stiffness and soreness in the upper back, neck, shoulders, and head.

If you find you’re experiencing increased neck pain and feel like your smartphone usage has been steadily increasing as well, there is likely a direct correlation. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to reduce smartphone-related neck pain, or “text neck.”

1. Keep Your Phone at Eye Level

It might be tricky to adjust the position in which you do the bulk of your smartphone use, but it’s worth a try. Simply switch from holding your phone down at your lap or waist, to holding it up to eye or chest level. If you’re sneaking in smartphone time at your desk, lean on your elbows or use your chair’s elbow rests and pick up the phone from the desk, bringing your phone to eye level instead of staring down at your phone as it’s lying flat. Likewise, consider propping up your phone during periods of prolonged viewing.

2. Take Frequent Breaks or Limit Long Periods or Consumption

Do what you can to limit long periods of smartphone use by using the 20-20-20 rule that many of us chiropractors swear by: After every 20 minutes of using your device, take a 20-second break to adjust your neck’s position while looking 20 feet ahead in order to neutralize your spine. There are also various neck stretches chiropractors recommend to our clients suffering from any type of neck pain.

3. Limit Your Smartphone Usage Entirely

If limiting your smartphone usage has been on your list of things to do for a while now, alleviating your neck pain should be even more motivation to cut back. There are numerous resources out there to help you reduce your usage. One trick is to install app blockers, or simply use your desktop computer for more tasks, such as video consumption, reading the daily news, and sending emails. Or, how about calling instead of texting when you sense a lengthier conversation coming on?

4. Spend More Time Lying Down

link between smartphone and neck pain - women in bed with phone

If you just can’t seem to limit your time spent on your device, consider doing more of your smartphone-related tasks lying down with the support of pillows. This will, at the very least, take the strain away from your neck and spine while still allowing you to use your device as much as you like.

The bottom line is, the best way to reduce neck pain caused by your smartphone is to improve your overall posture, and this includes during smartphone use. Avoid keeping your head at an angle for extended periods.

5. See a Chiropractor for Treatment

If you’re suffering from neck and back pain, seeing a chiropractor can help you determine the source of the pain while treating your symptoms. Chiropractors can also suggest further ways you can prevent such pain from occurring in the future.

Dr. Stephanie Louie at Mind Body Spine is a Victoria, BC, chiropractor who can recommend a course of treatment to address your neck pain, no matter what the cause. Techniques she may explore with you might include spinal adjustments, muscle release techniques, therapeutic exercises, and lifestyle advice. Call Mind Body Spine at 250-885-2320 to book your next chiropractic appointment with Dr. Louie.