Neck and head pain caused by the excessive use of mobile devices is becoming an epidemic, says Kelly Milan, physiotherapist and owner of Corydon Physiotherapy Clinic in Winnipeg.
In fact, two-thirds of Milan’s patients experience what he calls “tech neck” — painful upper back, neck and shoulder strain brought on by tilting the head forward to interact with smartphones.
The affliction has been making news headlines recently, following the publication of research by Kenneth Hansraj, a New York spinal surgeon, in the medical publication Surgical Technology International. Hansraj found that the popular habit of constantly looking down at a smartphone is having a detrimental effect on necks and spines.
The study found that as your head tilts forward, it puts significantly more weight on the spine. When your head is in a neutral position and looking forward, your neck and spine are supporting between 4.5-5.4 kilograms (10-12 pounds). If your head is tilted far enough forward that your chin is close to your neck, you could be putting as much as 27 kg. (60 pounds) of weight on your spine.
“As soon as the head starts to come forward, the neck muscles have to start working exponentially more so,” Milan says.
Milan offers the following suggestions to minimize “tech neck”:
> Position your devices properly
Use your mobile devices in a way that minimizes strain on your upper body.
Simply hold your smartphone or tablet higher, so your head isn’t tilting forward as much. What helps is when you can sit in a chair that provides good back support, and position your device closer to your chest or eyes, Milan says.
Another common problem comes from the popularity of touchscreen computers. Reaching forward repetitively to swipe at the screen can strain your shoulder as well as your neck, Milan says. The problem is magnified by the fact that we tend to rely on one hand to swipe the screen.
To minimize that problem, use an external keyboard and mouse for your touchscreen computer whenever possible.
> Stretch your neck and spine
Incorporate brief but effective movements that reverse the stress and strain on your neck, Milan says.
For the first stretch, stand up and put your palms on the top of your rear end. Bend backwards onto your hands while squeezing your shoulder blades. As you arch backwards, tilt your head up slightly.
Another stretch requires you to either sit or stand up straight and place two fingers from each hand on the back of your neck. These fingers will support the neck as you stretch, so make sure they are firmly placed in the middle. Then, pull your elbows back and lift your chin while looking as high as you can.
> Make stretching a regular part of your day
If you are feeling upper body pain, those exercises can be carried out every two or three hours. Repeat each movement five to 10 times and hold each stretch for five to 10 seconds.
If you a constant user of mobile devices, consider stretching every half-hour.