Most of us are guilty of spending more and more time looking down at our cell phones or tablets. Even our kids spend hours with the tablet in hand, looking down at it. Then, one day you start to notice a nagging shoulder pain, neck pain or increasing frequency of headaches and wonder why.
Think about how we sit when we look at tablets or smartphones. Our head is bent down and our shoulders are hunched over. When we sit with our necks in this position, the pressure that we put on our spine and discs can be astronomical. The average head weighs 10 pounds. For every inch we tip our head forward, that 10 lbs doubles, putting twice as much pressure on our spine. With our heads tipped down looking at our phones, we can put up to 60 lbs or more on our necks!
The physical effect is that the muscles in the back of the neck start to elongate and the muscles in front start to shorten and tighten down. We are straining our nerves and spinal cord, leading to nerve damage and radiating symptoms.
Our physical therapists are starting to see neck issues with kids starting at the age of 8 and becoming more frequent over the teen years. When it starts this young, eventually the increased pressure on the neck can lead to muscle strains, herniated discs and nerve problems. The problems don’t stop at the neck—other issues can arise from this slumped over posture. It can lead to decreased lung capacity and increased internal pressure that can lead to digestive problems.
Neck Tips for Mobile Device Use
What can we do to avoid neck and shoulder pain caused by mobile device use? Here are several tips for protecting your neck when using mobile devices.
Hold your phone around eye level or prop your tablet up on a pillow or stand while looking at it.
Keep your ears over your shoulders as much as you can when working at a computer or looking down at a phone or tablet.
Most importantly, take breaks from looking down at your phone or tablet. If you have to work on a phone or tablet, set a timer and look up or get up every 10 to 20 minutes. If your kids are using it, set a timer for 10 to 20 minutes and then encourage them to get up and go outside and play!
If you are starting to experience neck and shoulder pain, do these stretches. Remember to do so gently and to hold each side for at least 10 seconds. Click on the images for instructions: