How many times have you walked into a room that looks like this?

Have you ever wondered what that might be doing to people’s necks? We sure have!

At Osteohealth, we spend a LOT of our time working on upper backs, necks, shoulders and headaches. It is very common to walk into our waiting room to see it full of people browsing their phones, and then to have them complain of headaches or neck pain in our consult rooms.

The negative psychological, social and emotional effects of mobile phone use is now well proven (see here for more details), but we often underestimate the physical toll it takes as well.

Forgive me, but I’m keeping advice general in this blog as we can’t responsibly prescribe exercises/stretches etc without first diagnosing and assessing you but the principles described are universal.

The problem stems from the way the human spine is designed. It is built to be used upright so that you can passively support the weight of your body and head with very little muscle effort. Think of how easy it is to hold a broom vertically.

broom-vertical

As soon as we sit and drop our head forward, the efficient posture we had changes because our centre of gravity moves forward- we then have to hold the position of our body and head using muscles, instead of letting the spine take the weight. Looking back to our broom example, think of holding the broom at 45 degrees. This phenomenon is exaggerated in the neck because it is a long floppy lever that has a very heavy object at one end of it.

broom-45deg

The head weighs roughly 8 pounds(3.6kg) according to the cute kid in Jerry Maguire. This may come as a surprise but the cute kid isn’t the most reliable source- it is actually significantly heavier at 4.5-5kg. When you suspend this 5kg structure out in space as you gaze longingly at Candy Crush, you are putting an amazing amount of load on the muscles and joints of your upper back and neck.

Feel free to go back to Year 12 Physics and review first class levers, or (if you are like me and repressing memories of high school) think about how hard it is to hold a bag of spuds down by your side. Then think about how hard it is to hold it directly out in front of you! Your arms get tired VERY, VERY quickly. This same phenomenon is occurring in your neck.

posture-figure-1posture-figure-2posture-figure-3

This image graphically shows how dramatic this effect becomes the more forward your head moves. Over time these muscles become fatigued, long and typically weak. This causes pain and creates an even worse posture over time which can result in headaches, shoulder pathology, neck pain and upper limb numbness. Given that we use the internet for greater than 20 hours a week, how do we reduce the effect on our neck, shoulder, eyes, headaches, wrist, fingers and back???

CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOURS!!!

Habits are hard to change but if you don’t alter them, the same problems will continue to occur (Einstein famously said: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome’; and I am most certainly not going to argue with Einstein!).

  1. Don’t use your phone- learn to turn it off. There’s really not that much happening online that’s worth causing long term skeletal damage for. Here’s a thought: Talk to the person next to you- they’ve probably got a more informed opinion than the Facebook post you are currently reading!
  2. Reduce the hours online- according to Neilsen, 63% of time spent on a mobile phone is on completely discretionary activities (social sites, gaming and entertainment).
  3. Use a different device- if you must browse then the smaller the device you use the worse it is for you.
  • Phone is worse than a tablet
  • Tablet is worse than a laptop
  • Laptop is worse than a desktop

On smaller, touch screen devices your hands and eyes are on the same spot. This means your head is continually bent forward over the screen and it places a huge load on your neck and upper back.

4. Break up your usage- if you absolutely HAVE to use your mobile then break the time into       smaller chunks. Average smart phone use is in excess of an hour per day- break it into 5 min lots rather than 2 sessions of 30 mins.

5. Get fit to text! The stronger and more active you are the less impact bad postures will have on your upper back and neck as you are more capable of dealing with the traumatic position your are putting your body in. The other benefits include:

  • You have less time to be on your phone
  • It will release those awesome natural painkillers and mood changers that are in the body that we don’t use often enough: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and others.
  • You will sleep better
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increase in general happiness and well being

6. Bring the device up to you- don’t fall over the top of it
phone-incorrect-height                      phone-correct-height

7. Seek treatment and advice- if all else fails and you can’t get rid of the pain then go and see an Osteo or Physio to help you break the cycle of pain. There are HEAPS of things we can do to reduce your symptoms, including stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent this being an ongoing problem.

Good luck with weaning yourself off one of the most addictive and socially pervasive technologies that has ever been designed!! And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony that you are all probably reading this on your phone!!

Any comments or questions just email me here.

 

-Tom Barry