Bad phone habits a pain in the neck
The extra pressure caused by leaning over mobile phones could be damaging our spines, according to research carried out in the United States. Nel Staveley reports
THEY already give us headaches, repetitive strain injury, memory loss, poor sleep, and possibly even cancer (well, according to some concerned critics). And now, spinal damage can also be added to the list of possible health pitfalls linked with mobile phones, according to researchers in New York.
A newly coined condition - 'text neck' - reveals that slumping over your mobile phone for hours on end heaps so much pressure on your spine that we're giving ourselves long-lasting back problems.
It might be easy to dismiss - can looking down occasionally really cause that much damage? But then you look at the numbers - bending the head at a 60-degree angle puts an extra 60lbs worth of pressure on the top of the spine. That's more than four stone, which is heavier than the average seven-year-old. "The issue is that people don't just let their neck hang forward because it causes an immediate stretch and makes us change our head on neck position almost immediately. Instead, people "prop" their elbows either on their tummy or wait to pull the phone away from their bodies to get the focal distance they need it, then they poke their chin out to get the screen in front of the eyes," explains Matt Todman, clinic director at Six Physio (sixphysio.com). "Poking out the chin is the problem. The head is heavy (approx 8kg) in relation to the muscles that support them so this position irritates and stretches the front portion of the cervical spinal discs in the neck and causes pain in traps and down the inside of your shoulder blades."
The trouble is, however alarming that all sounds, it's probably not alarming enough to make us leap away from our phones - rightly or wrongly, we're all addicted to them now.
Thankfully, there are some ways you can be addicted but keep your spine a little safer, according to Toedman: n Work on thoracic mobility and lift your ches. When looking at the phone, don't poke out your chin, keep it in the middle." n Try holding your phone more in front of your face, though this can be tiring so use the arm of a chair or wedge an elbow into your tummy."
* When using your phone adjust your position regularly - you should not be sustaining one set position for more than 15 minutes. "Try paying attention to the crown of your head at the same time as looking at your phone," advises Alexander Technique specialist James Crow. "Imagine the space between the two increasing, like magnets gently pushing away from each other instead of pulling into each other. This can really help your head posture.
Give your neck a rest every now and again by pulling up and looking around you," adds Crow. "People-watching, spotting their bad posture habits as they use their mobiles, can be a fun alternative. You'll soon notice everyone else's bad habits, so you're less likely to do it yourself."