In a society where the pervasive use of smartphones and other mobile devices has become the norm, many people are starting to experience neck pain more frequently. How can using a cell phone cause such long lasting discomfort? It’s all in how you look at it.
Put simply, the human body was designed to stand upright. However, most people drop their head forward and down while texting, emailing, or gaming on mobile devices. When you look down, not only does your neck move forward but your shoulders round and your neck and shoulder muscles will contract in order to support the weight of your head. The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds when standing with neutral posture (ears centered over shoulders). However, research shows that for every inch you move your head forward from neutral the pressure on your spine and muscles double. That means if you’re looking down at your cell phone or IPad in your lap, your neck is holding up what feels like an extra 30 to 50 pounds. That’s like carrying around a small child on your neck all day! Overtime this added strain could lead to changes in the natural curvature of your neck and spine which in turn could cause muscle strains, disc herniation or pinched nerves.
Think about it this way, try holding a ten pound bowling ball close to your body. Now if you were to straighten your arms out the ball would feel much heavier than only ten pounds after just a few minutes. Your arms would fatigue quickly without the support and stabilization from the core because your muscles would have to work harder against gravity. This same concept applies to your cervical spine and muscles supporting your head. Your neck hurts because it is working too hard.
So what can be done to prevent or to soothe neck pain and discomfort? While the best advice is to take frequent breaks from your computer or cell phone, we obviously aren’t going to ditch the devices entirely. So here are a few suggestions:
- Use Good Ergonomics: Hold your cell phone or other screens at eye level as much as possible. Make sure you have the appropriate monitor, desk and chair height for you while you are at the computer. Use a case on your IPad so it can be propped on the table. Look down with your eyes, not your neck.
- Relieve Tension with Stretches:
1. Chin Tuck– Sit tall in a chair and keep your chin parallel to the floor. Without tilting your head in any direction, gently draw your head and chin back, like you’re making a double chin. You should feel a stretch along the back of your neck. Repeat 10 times
2. Neck Rotations– Look gently to the left and right, keeping the chin parallel to the floor 10 times on each side.
3. Pec Stretches– Stand in a doorway and place your forearms against the frame of the door, with your elbows at shoulder height. With one foot forward, draw your shoulder blades together on your back and gently lean through the door. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Some may also benefit from a more comprehensive treatment plan, such as a combination of manual adjustments, massage therapy, Pilates, or physical therapy.