We are all guilty of checking our smartphones at every opportunity but are we really thinking about how the process of looking down at our phones is affecting our spine and back health?
“Text neck” is fast becoming one of the major causes of neck pain and we probably aren’t even aware of it. The modern epidemic is becoming a major concern for health experts including Kenneth Hansraj who has recently published new research into the detrimental effects our smartphones are having on our spines including wear-and-tear, bad posture and even corrective surgery.
How Checking Our Phones Affects The Spine
Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, explains the impact constantly texting, emailing and checking social media from our phones really has on the back and spine. He explains that the average head weighs around 5.4 kg, our body is able to support this weight efficiently with good, straight posture but as we move the neck forward, the weight on the spine increases at each angle.
With each angle, the amount of weight increases and puts immense pressure on our spine and back muscles. With a 60 degree neck angle, it’s a 60lb (around 27kg) weight pressure on the spine – to put that into context that’s like having an average 7 year-old child around your neck every time you look right down at your phone. For many of us that’s for several hours each day.
It can also exacerbate an underlying condition such as pinched nerves or herniated discs as well as causing tension headaches.
What Can We Do To Counteract This?
Let’s face it, asking people to stop checking their phones is a big ask but being mindful of bringing your phone upwards so the neck angle isn’t as significant will make a big difference.
However, there are simple exercises we can perform that you can do daily in order to help correct and negate the damage from text neck. Peforming these throughout the day will improve your posture, stretch out your back and spine, and promote a healthy alignment.
1. Shoulder Blade Pinches
The slouching action we form when checking our phones is one of the major causes of neck pain. To counteract the slumping forward of the shoulders it’s good to force them back to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the upper back.
-Sitting or standing with your back straight, draw your shoulder blades towards each other. You can interlock your hands behind your back for maximum stretch.
-Hold this for a few seconds, release and repeat.
-Try to perform 10 reps every hour throughout the day.
2. Chin Tuck
This exercise is great for strengthening your neck muscles and also pulls the neck right back in to align with your back.
-Stand tall or sit up straight while sitting, keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
-Gently draw your head and chin back like you’re creating a double chin. You can use your fingers to push your chin back but make sure your head is facing forward and tilting in any direction.
-Doing this gently, you should feel a stretch along the back of the neck.
-Release your chin and repeat.
-Do around 10 reps each hour.
3. Doorway Stretch
You can stretch out your back muscles by making use of any doorway. This move counteracts the sunken chest from too much slouching.
-Stand inside a doorway, bend your right arm at a 90 degree angle and place your forearm on the doorframe.
-Position your bent elbow at shoulder height and rotate your chest left. You should feel a stretch in your chest and front shoulder.
-Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat with the other arm.
-Do this as often as possible throughout the day.
4. Pec Stretch
As with the exercise above you can also use both arms at the same time to get both a stretch around the front of your chest and straighten and align your shoulders to promote a straight spine.
-Standing in the doorway with one leg out in front of you, place your arms at 90 degrees on each side.
-Slowly push forward so you draw your shoulder blades together and feel a stretch along the front of your chest.
-Hold for 30 seconds and repeat throughout the day.
While checking our phones is a habit that’s hard to break, remember to be mindful of how often you do it and the position of your neck. Bring your phone up to eye-level as much as possible or now that you’re aware of the damage you could be doing to your neck and spine, try to make a conscious effort to check your phone less during the day.