A large population study examined the link between smart phone users’ frequent texting and reports of persistent upper back and neck pain.
How much of the day do you spend with your head buried in your smart phone? Have you ever stopped to notice your posture in the midst of responding to that group text or checking social media? The convenience of staying connected at all times can be addictive, and it may also cause abnormal musculoskeletal wear and tear. While strong evidence links frequent texting to chronic neck pain, surgeons are left wondering what long term effects prolonged smart phone use may have on the spine.
A recent article in The Spine Journal (2017) cited a large population study in Sweden, which included over 7000 participants ranging in age from 20-24. Over a period of 5 years, this study demonstrated an association between the amount of time spent texting and the persistence of upper back and neck pain in participants.
As noted in a 2015 observational study, the average person extends their neck while texting, positioning their cervical spine at an angle between 15 and 60 degrees (45 degrees on average). The weight of the human head (10-12 pounds in a neutral position) puts an increasing amount of strain on the spine as the angle increases from 15 to 60 degrees, with the estimated pressure on the cervical spine weighing in at approximately 60 pounds at a flexed neck posture of 60 degrees.
Any repetitive action using this forward flexed neck position (i.e. texting, reading on a laptop or computer, etc.) can result in “text neck” or chronic neck pain. As data highlights the detrimental effects of craning one’s neck forward for prolonged periods of time to stare at screens, researchers are increasingly concerned about possible links to disk degeneration or spinal herniation in the long term.
With frequent texting linked to neck pain, surgeons are particularly concerned about the risks to spine development posed by such harmful posture and hyper-extension of the neck in this universal age of smart phones, as younger people are using multiple devices more often each day. Clinical studies are necessary to quantify and examine any links between the forward flexed position of the neck while texting and cervical disk degeneration. This issue requires further study to promote awareness and prompt proactive lifestyle changes to lessen and/or prevent neck pain from prolonged smart phone use.
Written By: Jennifer Newton