As a chiropractor I see people with all sorts of aches and pains but one trend I have noticed is neck pain and associated problems like headaches, migraines and jaw pain on the rise over the past few years.
Often ‘poor posture’ is the generalised cause but I feel a more specific cause is right under our noses, quite literally – smart phones.
So what’s really the problem with cell phones?
Firstly it’s important to understand how the neck and spine works to best appreciate how the use of phones is damaging our health.
The spine has a number of curves that act like a suspension system, evenly distributing weight and forces without overloading one area of the spine. The neck more specifically has a gentle ‘C’ shaped curve which keeps the head upright, eyes parallel and distributes the weight of the head through the spine.
The neck vertebra are unique in their structure. Their small thin structure allows for fast, intricate and accurate movements. The further down the spine the bones become wider and thicker, dealing with the increase load that is placed on them. Think of the neck as a formula 1 car, nimble, fast and delicate. The low back vertebra are more the off road 4×4 car, sturdy and hard wearing.
The problem comes with sitting and working with things in front of us. Over time we start to slouch with the head creeping forward, which undoes the natural curves of the spine. This places huge stress on the small neck joints, which in turn causes the surrounding muscles to get tight and stiff. With every inch the neck moves forward more weight and stress is being placed on the neck vertebra. Like holding a bowling ball close to the body and then further away, the work load increases even though the weight doesn’t. We are now effectively asking the formula 1 car to go off road, not a good idea.
Over the past few years a lot of money and research has gone into ergonomics, how we should be sitting, moving and lifting. No doubt driven by fear of future litigation when it becomes apartment that the deterioration of a generation’s health may be driven by the sedentary work postures we adopt. We now know how to set up our desk station and car seat to maintain good healthy posture. But is it possible to have good posture when looking at our phone?
There are two ways to tackle this problem. Firstly look at how we use our phones and secondly how much we use our phones.
Often we hold our phone below eye level causing the head to tilt forward, past the neutral position, the danger zone. Ideally we would keep the head in neutral whilst looking at our phone but this would result in people walking around with their phone out at eye level and I don’t see that catching on very soon. The potential for technology in eye wear is a real solution to this problem but until then we need to look at the amount of time we are on the phone. Looking down for short periods of time is very safe for the neck, in fact that’s what the neck is designed to do but prolonged (over 10 minutes) bending of the neck (looking down) is what causes the muscles and joints to over stretch. Limiting use to short bursts is ideal. If you love to catch up on social media at night then try lying on your back when looking at the phone. The solution however may be as simple of not using your phone as much as we are. Not a popular option but often the simplest solution is the best one.
In the meantime here are some great stretches to help alleviate the tightness that comes from txt neck.
Stretches to help with the problem:
Rolled up towel:
Lying on the floor and placing a tightly rolled up towel under the neck for 2 minutes can help undo much of the stress from a forward head position. Great to do before bed.
Introduce movement every 20 minutes. This can be as simple as rolling your shoulders, going for a 30 second walk, standing or stretching.
Have rules about phone use. Commuting to work – then listen to a pod cast and put your phone away. Try and refrain from looking at your phone whilst walking along the street.
And most importantly seek professional advice from a Chiropractor, Physiotherapist or Osteopath if you are experiencing neck pain and headaches. Don’t reach for the pain killer, you’ll only delaying the inevitable.
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