Click, swipe, pinch, expand. With smartphones and tablets, we find the information we want in a flash. But what happens to our bodies when we constantly look down at mobile devices?
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Our neck muscles become unbalanced, says Cleveland Clinic chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC, of the Center for Integrative Medicine. This can lead to poor posture, neck pain, numbness, headache and, in time, arthritis.
A problem waiting to happen
Five years ago, Dr. Bang began seeing more and more teens with neck pain. He noticed they were “sitting in the waiting room with their chins on their chests, looking at their smartphones,” he says.
Putting two and two together, he dubbed the problem “text neck.” Today, he says that patients of all ages are developing the problem.
Trouble with the curve
The neck normally has a “banana-like curve” that helps distribute the weight of the head (about 10 to 12 pounds) onto discs between the neck vertebrae, says Dr. Bang. Constantly looking down at a smartphone or tablet causes the neck to straighten and lose this curve.
The result is uneven distribution of the head’s weight on the neck. The extensor muscles on the back of the neck become overstretched. The flexor muscles on the front of the neck become overstrengthened.
As a chiropractor, Dr. Bang corrects this imbalance by prescribing massage therapy and exercises that strengthen the extensor muscles and stretch the flexor muscles of the neck.
But that’s just a start. “Patients have to change their behavior or they will undo the treatment they are receiving,” he says.
Hold the phone: Here’s how
Dr. Bang offers these neck-friendly tips for viewing a smartphone or tablet:
- Smartphones: Rest your right elbow on your side, and hold the phone with your right hand. Use your left arm to support the right so you can hold the phone comfortably.
- Tablets: Sit with your back against a couch, chair or wall. Bring your knees up and rest your elbows on them as you hold the tablet.
“If you can correct a few of these habits and spend more time with good posture rather than poor posture, you will aggravate your neck less often,” Dr. Bang advises.
“Awareness is the best solution. Computers are never going away, so we have to try to adapt and become ergonomically sound.”
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