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Smartphone Posture
Avoid the Pain of "Text Neck" with Better Smartphone Posture

Bring the phone to your face, don't look down at the screen.

Pull your smartphone out and look at it. Now take a look at how your body is positioned. Are you standing straight with the phone up to your face? Or is your head dropped down to read the screen?

The ideal "normal" or "neutral" position for your head is with your ears in line with your shoulders, while your shoulders are back, relaxed and down. But that's not how most people read their phones.

Sitting or standing, most people hold their smartphones so that they have to bend their heads down to see them. It seems innocent enough, but when that position is held for long periods, it puts enormous stress on your neck. How big this problem is for you, may be determined by your age.  

The very first text was sent on December 3rd, 1992. It required a mainframe computer and was quite complex to send out. But as technology advanced and the cost of cell phones dropped, more and more people started texting instead of calling. Texting really took off with the introduction of the modern smartphone, around 2007. Since then it's been adopted by users around the world, especially by people under the age of 30.

What researchers have seen is that adolescents don't use the phone like their parents. People who are 40 or older, didn't have the option of texting for long conversations. When you talked to someone, you brought the phone up to your ear and held your head up. When someone has a text conversation, they typically look down while typing responses back and forth.

All that looking down is taking a toll on us. Judith Gold, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the College of Health Professions and Social Work, did one of the early studies on text messaging, posture and neck pain. She said, “What we’ve seen so far is very similar to what we see with office workers who’ve spent most of their time at a computer... The way the body is positioned for texting — stationary shoulders and back with rapidly moving fingers — is similar to the position for typing on a computer.”

Professor Gold was concerned because, "given the similarities in body position, findings from research on overuse injuries from computers could be applicable here."

Head Positions

To understand how serious this may be, you have to start with the weight of your head. A typical adult human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. As you tilt it forward, you put stress on your neck (cervical spine) ligaments, muscles and tendons. A slight tilt of just 15 degrees forward increases the pressure on your neck to about 27 pounds. Increase that to 30 degrees forward and your neck is now supporting about 40 pounds.

The further forward you tilt, the more weighted stress you're putting on your spine. A 45-degree tilt is equivalent to a 49-pound strain and 60 degrees forward is equal to 60 pounds.

Studies vary widely, but the most reliable ones show that we access our cell phones at least 63 to 150 times a day. That can equal two to four hours daily, looking down at the screen. All that looking down may be making us much more prone to neck and shoulder pain, or damage.

Raise the screens.

The solution is simple. When you're using a phone or tablet, push your elbows against your sides, then raise the device to your face. That'll eliminate the forward head tilt that can cause pain.

If you're sitting in front of a desktop computer, raise the monitor so your head doesn't tilt forward to read the screen. An even better option for desktop computers is to put them on a standing desk. Instead of sitting in front of the screen, stand and burn a few extra calories.

Laptops are a little trickier. If they're on your lap you might want to use pillows to raise them up. On a desk, putting the laptop on some books can help. But both solutions may raise the computer so high that the keyboard is no longer at a proper level. If that's the case, look for aftermarket keyboards that have a long cord. Plug them into the laptop so the keyboard can be kept at the right level for typing, but the laptop screen is at the right level for your neck.

Try raising all your screens to eye level for the next month. If you've had aches or soreness in your shoulders and neck, this may be something that could help relieve the pain.

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