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How To Use the Phone While Protecting Your Neck and Spine

man on phone with neck painIf you regularly use a cell phone or tablet, you may have experienced pain or stiffness in your neck or back after using your device. Because many people bend over their devices, it is common to have painful symptoms with long-term device use. This phenomenon even has a name: text neck. Other people may have noticed neck pain after cradling their phone between their ear and their shoulder.

As a Virginia chiropractor for more than 20 years, I have seen firsthand how many patients develop neck and spine problems while using their phones and other devices. In this article, I will discuss how to protect your neck and spine while using your phone or handheld device.

What Is Text Neck?

Text neck is an injury in the neck from having a forward head posture. Also called “tech neck,” it is caused by the extra strain on your neck from constantly looking downward at a handheld device. This strain is caused by the extra stress of your spine having to carry your head while it is bent forward.

When your head is in a neutral position atop your neck, your spine can easily absorb the weight, which is around 12 pounds. However, when someone is on a handheld device, they often crane their neck forward. This change in position adds force that your spine is not meant to support long-term. One study showed that tilting your head forward 15 degrees adds an extra 27 pounds, 30 degrees adds an extra 40 pounds, and 60 degrees adds an extra 60 pounds.

Cradling your phone between your ear and shoulder can also lead to similar issues, as your spine is forced to support your head leaning to the side for extended periods of time.

Can Text Neck Damage My Spine?

Constantly keeping your head in a forward position can harm your spine over the long term. Your neck can become hyperextended, with your cervical vertebrae pushed forward. This can aggravate underlying spinal issues like arthritis.
Complications of text neck can include:

  • Thoracic kyphosis, a rounding of the back commonly called a hunchback
  • Upper-crossed syndrome, a combination of tight and weak muscles leading to spinal imbalance and pain

Holding your phone between your ear and your shoulder can also be damaging to your spine and overall health. One doctor suffered a stroke after holding his phone against his shoulder for an hour, because of pressure on the carotid artery that runs through the neck.

What Are the Symptoms of Text Neck?

Text neck can cause symptoms including pain in the head, back, neck, shoulder, and numbness in the arms. Although in some cases the pain will feel like a dull ache in a single spot, it can also radiate. You may notice that your neck feels stiff, from the muscles in your neck being overworked to support your head while it is tilted forward.

Cradling your phone between your head and shoulder can cause similar symptoms.

How Can Text Neck Be Prevented?

You can make several changes to your routine to prevent the symptoms of text neck. These include:

  • Limit the time you spend on handheld devices: The more time you spend with your head bent forward over a device, the more likely you are to develop text neck. Limiting your time on devices can alleviate your symptoms.
  • Maintain a good posture: Try to keep your head in a neutral position, instead of bending it forward. This causes your head to put less pressure on the spine.
  • Keep your phone at eye level: By keeping your device at the level of your eyes, you prevent yourself from bending your head down. This reduces the stress on your spine, relieving pain.
  • Take breaks from your device: By taking regular breaks from your device, your neck muscles can have a chance to relax, leading to less pain.
  • Talk to your doctor about neck stretches and exercises: Your doctor can tell you if you are a good candidate to try strength and flexibility exercises of the back and neck. This may help you better tolerate spinal stresses.

You can also avoid holding your phone between your ear and shoulder:

  • Use a headset: Using a hands-free headset or earphone/microphone combination can free your hands to multitask while avoiding strain on your neck
  • Use a speakerphone: If a headset is not available, you can put a person on speakerphone

How Can I Treat Neck Pain from Using My Phone?

You can treat neck pain from using your phone in several ways. First and foremost, if your neck continues to hurt despite taking steps to prevent text neck, it is important to talk to your doctor. They will be able to perform a full examination to get to the root cause of the problem. It is possible that using your phone is exacerbating an underlying issue in your neck, like arthritis.

Based on your medical history, your doctor will be able to tell you if treatments like chiropractic, ice or heat packs, stretching, or massage may be appropriate to treat your pain.

Protecting Your Neck and Spine With Precision Spinal Care

As a certified NUCCA chiropractor and spine management physician, I believe it is vital to understand the root cause of your pain before coming up with a treatment plan.

To this end, during your first visit I will do a thorough examination of your spine. I will assess if there are any aggravating factors, like text neck, that could be causing your pain. I will then review my evaluation with you in detail.

Together, we will set reasonable expectations and milestones for recovery and further evaluation. We will also put together a treatment plan that meets your care needs. I will reevaluate you to make sure you are meeting your goals.

If we determine that chiropractic is not the best solution for your needs, I will recommend the type of specialist who is most appropriate for you. I may also recommend other specialists that can be used in conjunction with chiropractic care to help you meet your needs.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you are trying to treat your pain. At Precision Spinal Care, we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs and discuss all the options with you and your family.

Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment online here.

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