You see it everywhere: People walking the streets with their heads bent over their phones, sitting slumped on the train, in the restaurant, at their jobs. They're texting, reading emails and articles and typing on their smartphones. But with heads flexed, shoulders rounded and backs hunched for long periods of time, their necks take a toll.
"Text neck [or tech neck] is a condition gaining popularity as more people are spending hours each day looking down at their phone or other electronic devices," says Kenneth K. Hansraj, M.D., a spinal and orthopedic surgeon and author of "Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine."
Recent studies show people spend between one hour and two and a half hours each day glued to their mobile devices. That’s a lot of time looking down, causing strain in the neck, which can lead to the potential loss of the spine's natural curves. "An adult head weighs 10-12 pounds and frequently looking down at an electronic device adds pressure and weight on your neck and spine and can lead to irreversible injury," says Hansraj. People are not designed to stay in that position for extended periods of time.
Worse, constant stress on the back of the neck can lead to degenerative disk disease, which can be irreversible. Plus, bone spurs can grow and people can get pinched nerves or herniated disks, which cause intense pain. And if neck pain wasn't bad enough, those who spend a lot of time looking down at their devices can also develop wrinkles near the neck and chin, a condition previously referred to as "Blackberry neck."
Preventing 'tech neck'
Prevention is the best medicine. To avoid these posture issues, focus on holding cellphones, tablets and e-readers level with your eyes. This prevents the head from drifting forward explains Eric Saxton, a chiropractor at Saxton Chiropractic and Rehab, PLLC, in Sterling, Virginia.
"Secondly, follow your mother's nagging and sit up straight. Sitting up straight automatically pulls your shoulders back in their proper position and aligns your head directly over your shoulders," says Saxton.
Hansraj believes that by making changes to your posture and how you view your devices, you can avoid potential long-term damage. Avoid spending hours each day hunched over and looking down at your lap.
7 tips to avoid 'tech neck'
1. Hold your phone at just below eye-level and use your index finger to text — not both of your thumbs. "This reduces strain on the neck muscles and shoulders and prevents over use of the thumb joint," says Geeta G. Singh, MSPT, a physical therapist at Integrated Physical Therapy, Inc., in Laguna Beach, California.
2. Sit up straight with your head in a neutral position (ears over your shoulders), good posture and your feet planted flat on the ground while using the phone says Dr. Chris Tomshack, CEO and founder of HealthSource Chiropractic.
4. Every 20 minutes stand up, roll your shoulders back and walk around so you’re not stuck in one position.
5. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing outward. You should feel your chest stretching. Hold for 10-20 seconds.
6. Sit on the edge of a chair upright with your legs spread apart and feet turned out at a 45-degree angle. Your arms should be hanging by your side. Make sure your head is aligned over your shoulders. Take several deep breaths.
7. Consider an app like this one that flashes a red light when you're holding your cellphone in an unhealthy position.
8. Use a cervical pillow or roll while sleeping on your back.
9. If you realize you're hunching, then take 15 seconds to perform one of the following exercises afterward, says Singh:
- Chin tuck: Gently elongate the crown of your head upwards and tuck your chin inwards (creating a double chin); hold for 15 seconds.
- Neck side tilt: Tilt your head side to side for 15 seconds, try to keep the crown of your head elongated upwards as you perform this exercise.
- Neck turns: Turn your head side to side for 15 seconds, again keep the crown of your head elongated upwards.
Other smartphone health problems to watch out for:
Cell elbow — continually bending elbow to hold phone to your ear
Phone fog — putting yourself in danger by driving or walking while talking and not paying attention
PDA nails — continually pressing the keypad with your fingertips which puts pressure on nail beds
Cellphone blindness —blurry vision from looking at a small screen