Smartphones are an integrated part of our everyday lives and research suggests the average adult uses their phones for approximately 3.5 hours each day. In fact, it is thought that smartphone usage will surpass TV as the most consumed media in 2019. How does this prolonged usage affect our health? Medical professionals suggest that prolonged smartphone usage and poor posture causes lower left back pain, lower right back pain, and issues in the upper back and neck areas. Read on to see just how our smartphones may be causing health problems and pain.
Poor posture and tilting your head
The human head typically weighs between 10 and 12 pounds and the pressure it exerts on the neck and back increases as it is tilted forward. When we tilt our head forward to look at our smartphone neck muscles, ligaments, tendons, and intervertebral discs are required to hold the head at an angle.
The amount of force exerted when we tilt our head forward increases the further it’s tilted. Research conducted by Dr. Kenneth K Hansraj MD found that the head exerts 27 lbs of force if it is tilted only 15 degrees, 40 lbs at 30 degrees, 49 lbs at 45 degrees, and 60 lbs at 60 degrees. When you quickly check a message, you’ll probably tilt your head somewhere through 15–30 degrees, but more often than not, that quick check of a message turns into scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and the longer we stare at our phones the further forward our head tilts.
To put this in perspective, 60 lbs of force is the equivalent of having an 8-year old child or adult Labrador sitting on top of your head, and as we spend on average 2–4 hours using a smartphone per day, for much of that time your head is likely tilted at around 45–60 degrees. These types of forces are likely to lead to neck and back problems in much of the population if left unchecked.
What health problems should you expect?
The extra forces applied to the neck and back with prolonged smartphone use is likely to cause health problems in the future. We usually associate neck and back problems with the aging population, and many people go on to suffer from problems when they are over 60. However, with prolonged smartphone usage, medical professionals are now seeing more neck and back problems in the younger population. Reports show that patients presenting with lower back pain, sciatica, and even herniated discs are on the rise, and research suggests that this is often due to smartphone use and poor posture.
What can you do prevent health problems?
The best advice is to simply stop using your phone or at least use it less, but this is also not the most practical advice. As our phones are an integral part of our daily existence, it’s impractical to stop using our phones. Instead, you should be more aware of your posture and make corrections to help prevent problems down the line.
Good posture means your head is held upright and your ears are in line with your shoulders. Also, your shoulder blades should be down and retracted: to retract your shoulder blades you should relax your arms.
To improve your posture while using your phone try to raise your phone up to eye level when looking at it and try to minimize using it. If you are browsing the internet or using social media for a prolonged period, consider switching to your desktop or laptop.
Researchers have also found that standing straight for a long time can elevate your testosterone and serotonin levels, which could adversely affect your mood. Therefore, if you do really have to use for phone for a prolonged period consider sitting down and raising your phone as close to eye level as comfortable.
Ultimately, preventing adverse health problems associated with smartphone usage is difficult as we very much depend on our phones to connect us to friends and family and keep up to date with current events.
What you should do is try not to use your phone for prolonged periods and just take the time to think about how your head perched over your phone might impact your health in the future. If you find that your smartphone usage has already started to give you pain, then consider a professional consultation to help with recovery.