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How Smart Phones Can Cause Neck Pain

Posted May 16th, 2023

How Smart Phones Can Cause Neck Pain

Many people spend more time than they intend to on their cell phones and other digital devices, which can become a literal pain in the neck if we don't maintain correct posture. Here, our Stittsville physiotherapists share advice on how to manage and prevent neck pain with exercise, stretches and physical therapy. 

Cell Phones & Neck Pain

Have you ever looked up from scrolling social media or watching a few (or more) videos on your cell phone, looked at the clock and noticed an hour has flown by? Maybe you feel your neck, back and shoulder areas growing stiff and sore. 

If this has ever happened to you, you may be feeling the negative effects of excessive cell phone use. You may hear your doctor, friends or others refer to this condition as "text neck" or "tech neck". It occurs as a result of the neck or head remaining in an unnatural flexed position. As your use your cell phone to text, play games and perform other tasks, your neck flexes forward. 

In this position, increased pressure and forces are applied to the muscles, ligaments, discs and tendons in and around the neck. This can later lead to chronic neck pain, along with causing wear and tear on internal structures as the natural curvature of the neck is changed. 

While text neck is a relatively newly documented phenomenon, neck pain can be caused by any activity that requires extensive or prolonged flexing of the neck. 

Three things happen when you drop your head:

  1. Your neck moves forward. 
  2. Your shoulders round forward or lift toward your ears. 
  3. Your neck and shoulder muscles spasm or contract.  

Neck muscles are designed to support the weight of your head when they're positioned properly. The average person's head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. The load on those muscles doubles for every inch your head drops forward.

Along with causing muscle pain, text neck can lead to other potential health issues such as impaired lung capacity, since sitting in a slumped position restricts your lungs' ability to expand. When we inhale less oxygen, this also causes your heart to pump harder so more blood can carry oxygen throughout your body.

How can I relieve neck pain?

You might consider these actions and techniques to help relieve neck pain: 

1. Reduce the number of hours you spend on your cell phone. 

So much of our personal and professional lives are contained within the little supercomputer in our pocket, and it's challenging for most people to take breaks from their phones, tablets and other digital devices. That said, time away from screens is critical to protecting our physical and mental health. 

Most phones have the ability to track your daily and/or weekly usage. Monitor this - you may find it shocking to learn how much time you've spent on your device by the end of the week! Working on a laptop (which most of us do for a good portion of the day), reading or other activities require us to flex our neck and can also contribute to pain or discomfort. 

Along with cutting back on your cell phone use overall, try to take regular breaks - at least every 45 to 60 minutes. You may find it useful to get up, stretch, change your posture and exercise to help ease tension in your body. 

2. Hold your phone closer to eye level. 

Holding your neck and head in a more neutral position and your phone closer to eye level can help reduce the onset of neck pain. 

3. Stretch your shoulders. 

Our physiotherapists at Nepean Sports Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre often recommend our patients stretch their neck and shoulder muscles throughout the day, for good reason; stretching can help you maintain good posture and lower your risk of neck and back pain at the end of a long day hunched over your laptop or digital device at work. 

Here are some of our most common recommendations for stretches for a healthier neck:

  • Side Bending - Bend towards the side while slightly retracting your head and moving your ear towards your shoulder. Placing your hand atop your head, pull slightly to bend further. Hold this position for a few seconds before relaxing and repeating the motion for your other side. 
  • Scapular Retraction - Bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle, pull your shoulders backward and leave your arms at your side. Then, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for about 10 seconds. Repeat these motions as necessary. 
  • Neck Retraction & Chin Tuck - Sit up, slightly tuck your chin and move your head backward. Keep looking straight without tilting your head back. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat. 

4. Engage in physiotherapy.

Are you already experiencing neck pain or text neck? At our physiotherapy clinic in Nepean, we offer physical therapy for neck pain, and bodily injuries. Our physiotherapists can help improve your mobility and quality of life by helping to reduce and manage pain. We can also assist in developing personalized, goal-oriented therapeutic exercise programs to help you recover and prevent potential future injuries. 

Physiotherapy at Motion Works Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre

If you spend as much time on digital devices including cell phones and tablets as most people do, counter conditioning such as awareness of your posture, stretching, exercise and physical therapy are important to help manage and reduce pain you may be feeling in your neck and other areas of your body. 

The physiotherapists at our physiotherapy center can help you get on the right track to improved health, less pain and a better quality of life. 

Are you wondering how your physiotherapist can help you prevent sports injuries? Our team of physiotherapists in Stittsville can create a custom training regimen to help.

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