Updated: May 16
Chances are that you probably haven’t given much thought to how your neck and back are faring in the era of the smartphone, but studies show that you most certainly should. It’s practically a reflex these days to pull out our smartphones when we’re standing in line, sitting at the airport, or riding the subway. And while it’s great that we rarely need to venture beyond our pockets for entertainment, our bodies are beginning to retaliate—and mourn the pre-texting days.
So, what exactly are these contemporary conveniences doing to our bodies? A surgeon-led study published in Surgical Technology International assessed what impact surgeons’ head and neck posture during surgery—similar to that of smartphone texters—has on their cervical spines. With each degree that our heads flex forward (as we stare at a screen below eye level), the strain on our spines dramatically increases. When an adult head (that weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position) tilts forward at 30 degrees, the weight seen by the spine climbs to a staggering 40 pounds, according to the study.
How pervasive of a problem is this? According to the study, the average person spends 14 to 28 hours each week with their heads tilted over a laptop, smartphone, or similar device. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 700 to 1400 hours of strain and stress on our spines. This number has likely gone up since COVID-19 started 2 years ago due to poor work-from-home positions and desks. As a result, the number of people dealing with headaches, achy necks and shoulders, and other associated pain has skyrocketed. As movement and ergonomic specialists, physical therapists at Rehab United Seattle are well-versed in addressing postural changes and functional declines due to poor posture positioning.
Over time, poor posture can have a cumulative effect, leading to spine degeneration, pinched nerves, and muscle strains. As physical therapists, we help people learn how to improve their posture and ergonomic set-up, which will lead to decreased stress and strain on their spine from their daily interaction with their devices.
So next time you pick up your smartphone or curl up with your e-reader, do a quick check of your head and neck posture. Your body will thank you now and for years to come.