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'Text Neck' a Growing Problem for Smartphone Users

This chart shows the stress put on the neck and spine as a result of hunching over a smartphone (Courtesy Dr. Ken Hansraj M.D.)
This chart shows the stress put on the neck and spine as a result of hunching over a smartphone (Courtesy Dr. Ken Hansraj M.D.)

Imagine hanging four 10-pound bowling balls around your neck.

According to new research, that’s essentially what a lot of us do when we hunch over and look at our smartphones.

Dr. Ken Hansraj M.D., the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, said we’re at the beginning of a wave of degenerative back and neck problems caused by poor posture while using smartphones.

Hansraj first became interested in the issue after seeing more and more young people come in with pain. In one case, a young man came in with neck, back and leg pain. Surgery improved the leg, but Hasraj said the man still had back and neck pain.

“That’s when we found he was spending four hours a day on his iPad playing games,” he said. “Look around. Everyone has their heads down.”

Some have coined the term “text neck” to describe the condition.

Hansraj said that in a neutral position, they human head weighs 10-12 pounds.

If you lower your head 15 degrees, you’re almost tripling that weight, he said.

At 30 degrees, it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees, it’s nearly 50 pounds and at 60 degrees, it’s 60 pounds.

People with smartphones typically spend between two and four hours a day with their heads tilted toward the device, the research said. That totals between 700 and 1,400 hours a year with additional stress on the spine. Teens could be worse, spending up to 5,000 hours a year hunched over, Hansraj said.

“Kids today are just not aware that they have their heads down 45 to 50 degrees,” he said.

To get an estimate of the potential scope of the problem, it is estimated that nearly 60 percent of Americans own a smartphone.

According to Hansraj’s research, the best thing people can do is try to look at their smartphones with a “neutral spine,” meaning keeping your ears over your shoulders with your shoulders drawn back.

Also, in place of lowering your head, you can look down with your eyes to avoid stressing the spine, he said.

“It’s not a military drill,” he said. “Don’t get in that position and stay there. The more you do it, the more the muscles build and ligaments strengthen.”

Hansraj said he’s a great fan of technology, but recommends smartphone users to be aware of their head positions.

The study was published in the National Library of Medicine and will appear next month in Surgical Technology International.