Are smartphones ruining your posture?

How many hours do you think you spend hunched over your smartphone? The answer is probably too many.

Waiting for a bus? Friend a bit late? It’s all too easy to unlock the smartphone and start checking texts, emails, or social media – it hoovers up the nooks and crannies of time when we’re a little bit bored. If we then combine this activity with time spent at our desks on our computers; internet, emails, streaming, online shopping all at our fingertips, then time spent on our digital technology is likely to be much higher.

As an Osteopath, I have seen the adverse effects sitting in front of a computer for extended periods of the day wrecks on our body; unfortunately, this is the disease of modernity. However, I am increasingly seeing patients suffering with neck pains and back pains as a direct result of too long hunched over a mobile screen. I had one gentleman come to see me complaining of a neck and back pain and it turned out he spent four hours a day playing games on his iPad. When you consider that an adult head weighs 10-12 pounds (that’s about the weight of a bowling ball) – tilt it forward, then the pressure it exerts on the neck compounds to a whopping 60 pounds (4 times heavier than a bowling ball) – it really isn’t surprising that this is having a detrimental effect on our health.

Children and teenagers are especially a cause for concern as the increase of hours spent hunched over their smartphones is on the rise, and this is putting an enormous strain on their growing spine and development. According to Common Sense Media (CMS), a nonprofit organisation that provides education and advocacy to family in promoting safe technology and media for children, reported that in 2013, children aged 8 and under spent approximately 15 minutes a day staring at a mobile screen now in 2018 they spend on average 48 minutes a day. That’s more than tripled in 4 years. In Hong Kong the amount of time children spend on their digital devices is now 5 times higher than it was 3 years ago; we even see toddlers as young as 1, being given electronic devices as e-pacifiers. It is clear that smartphones and other digital technology continues to play a big part in our children lives but all this bending and slouching to look at a screen is causing all sorts of abnormal curving and twisting in their spines.

The amount of time spent online each day rose from 2.8 hours to 3.2 hours, or by about 14%. The overall proportion of people aged 12 to 64 using the internet rose from 91% to 94%, similar to that for TV, making it one of the key tools for consuming media.

In March 2017, the average time spent online (combining laptop, desktops and smartphones) per person in the UK was 83 hours. For smartphones alone, this was 65.3 hours – over 2 hours a day for every smartphone user.

Older generations spend less time with their smartphones than younger people, over 45s are approximately 54 hours a month. However, for 18-24-year-old, smartphone usage is much higher – 18-24-year-old women are spending 88.5 hours a month on average on their phones – close to three hours a day. Men of the same age are spending 77.9 hours.

Moreover, this problem is more acutely felt in Hong Kong, according to data from the Nielsen Media Index 2017 year-end report, smartphone usage to access the internet accounted for 97% of all internet users.

And the smartphone “we can’t live without” is giving us a pain in the neck, or to give it its proper name, text neck. Text neck is used to describe neck pain and damage caused by looking down at a smartphone, tablet, and other wireless device, too frequently and for too long.

Symptoms associated with text neck:

  • Neck pain and soreness
  • Headaches
  • Upper back pain ranging from a chronic, nagging pain to sharp, severe upper back muscle spasms.
  • Shoulder pain and tightness, possibly resulting in painful shoulder muscle spasm.
  • Cervical Radiculopathy (pinched nerve): when nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated or “trapped” and cause pain in arm , shoulder or the hand.

What is the treatment for text neck?

The most obvious step is to book a consultation with an osteopath for assessment. An osteopath will take a look at posture, muscles chains, bones, joints and spine alignment and using a variety of gentle techniques, such as massage, stretching, and manual therapy they will treat the areas of tension to restore motion and improve flexibility to the whole musculoskeletal system. An osteopath will also give specific stretching exercises to promote posture correction and to avoid the problem flaring up again. But what an osteopath also does, is educate and encourage a patient to become mindful of their body and their life in general. We know slouching over a mobile screen is not healthy, so we need to take steps to change how we use these devices and for how long; getting more exercise is a good way to offset the damage: swimming, Pilates, yoga increases mobility, flexibility which is all vital for our spines. Being active in general is always a good thing, even if it’s a brisk walk – but not whilst looking down at your smartphone!

Here are some device-style changes we can all incorporate into our lives.

Control time spent on a smartphone by measuring smartphone usage:

  • Track usage time. The best way to track is to install an app that can track your screen time and tell you if smartphone addiction is something you need to worry about.
  • For iPhone users, you can download an app called Moment, which has features like setting daily limits and even tracking time for your entire family. It’s not available for Android users yet.
  • On Android you can use an application called Quality Time to measure your screen time in the same way.

Tips on using a smartphone to avoid neck pain:

  • Your eyes have a range of motion, which allows you to look down at your phone without tilting your head.
  • To keep the joints in your neck limber, move your head from left to right several times and touch your ear to your shoulder on both sides.
  • Place your hands on your head to provide some resistance as you push your head forward and do the same as your push your head back. This strengthens the ligaments and muscles that support your neck.
  • When standing in a doorway, extend your arms and push your chest forward. This stretches and strengthens “the muscles of good posture,” according to Hansraj.



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