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Leaning forward during phone use may cause

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

According to a recent report, spine surgeons are noticing a rise in patients with neck and upper back pain, likely the cause of poor posture during prolonged smartphone use.

Study authors wrote in The Spine Journal that some patients who are particularly young who shouldn’t have back and neck issues yet are reporting alignment problems and disk hernias.

Coauthor Dr. Todd Lanman, a spinal neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said, “In an X-ray, the neck typically curves backward, and what we’re seeing is that the curve is being reversed as people look down at their phones for hours each day.”

He told Reuters Health “By the time patients get to me, they’re already in bad pain and have disc issues. The real concern is that we don’t know what this means down the road for kids today who use phones all day.”

Dr. Lanman and co-author Dr. Jason Cuellar, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, note that people are often looking down when using smartphones, especially when texting as compared to browsing online or watching videos. Past studies have shown that people hold their necks at around 45 degrees, which becomes even worse as they sit versus standing.

They add that at higher flexed postures the impact on the spine increases. In neutral position looking forward the head weighs about 10-12 pounds. At 15 degree flex it feels like 27 pounds. Spine stress increases by degree, so at 60 degrees it is 60 pounds!

Lanman said “For today’s users, will an 8-year-old need surgery at age 28?”

“In kids who have spines that are still growing and not developed, we’re not sure what to expect or if this could change normal anatomies,” he told Reuters Health.

The authors suggest making simple lifestyle changes to relieve the stress from the “text neck” posture. Their recommendation is to hold phones in front of the face or near eye level, while texting.  It is also recommended to use two hands and two thumbs to create a more symmetrical and comfortable position for the spine.

Lanman recommends utilizing stretching and basic exercises that focus on posture. He tells patients while lying in their bed in to hang their heads over the edge, to extend the neck backward restoring the normal arc in the neck. Sitting down, he also recommends patients to align the neck and spine by checking that the ears are over the shoulders and the shoulders are over the hips.

SOURCE:  The Spine Journal, online March 20, 2017.