If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve likely read about an emerging global health concern: text neck.

Text neck refers to spinal damage that occurs over time as a result of bending down and forward to look at our mobile devices. At a fully upright position, our neutral spine supports the head, which weighs about 12 pounds. As we bend down, this weight on our spine increases. According to the Washington Post and a forthcoming study in Surgery Technology International, “at a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.”

Our spines were not designed to handle the increased weight for prolonged periods of time, and experts say that as more people complain of spine trouble, this early wear-and-tear shows:

As you stretch the tissue for a long period of time, it gets sore, it gets inflamed,” says Tom DiAngelis, president of the American Physical Therapy Association. “It can also cause muscle strain, pinched nerves, herniated disks and, over time, it can even remove the neck’s natural curve.” DiAngelis likens the effect to “bending a finger all the way back and holding it there for about an hour.”

On average, we are placing 700 to 1,400 hours of technology-related hunching on our spines each year. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, claims that this spinal pressure might affect adolescents disproportionately as they are among the heaviest consumers of technology.

For consumers of all ages, smart phones and tablets are an integral part of life. For our therapists who use iPads and iPods every single day to track patient care using various applications, mobile devices are indispensable. Fortunately, experts offer common sense strategies to mitigate potential health consequences of text neck:

  • Look down at your phone or tablet with your eyes. It is not always necessary to bend the neck in order to view your screen.
  • Exercise, advises Dr. Hansraj. Move your head from right to left. Using your hands, provide resistance and push your head against them – forward and then backward. Try standing in a doorway with your arms extended, and push your chest forward to strengthen “the muscles of good posture.”
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend using your device(s). 

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services