Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Health

Cellphone use can cause 'text neck,' experts say

All that bending over cellphones and other electronic devices may not just be bad for your brain and relationships. It's also bad for your spine. Your neck in particular.

Some experts are calling it "text neck."

"I see it in patients, friends, colleagues, family members. It's a real problem," said Aimee Klein, a physical therapist and associate professor in the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences.

Overuse of handheld devices such as cellphones can cause particular problems because most of us hold them too low, so we're always looking down. That puts a lot of strain on the neck, shoulders and upper back. One Illinois physical therapist reports seeing teenage patients with back, neck and shoulder complaints that she used to only see in middle-aged adults.

A 2014 study in the National Library of Medicine found that constantly looking down puts so much extra pressure on the cervical or upper spine that it can lead to joint damage and, in extreme cases, the need for surgery to get pain relief. Teen athletes are at especially high risk because many sports already put a lot of stress on their spine, shoulders and neck.

The solution, of course, is to reduce use. (See our tips box.) But also to hold devices higher.

"Most of us hold cellphones at waist level or lower, in our laps, especially if we're trying to hide it under a restaurant table or desk. I see that a lot," said Klein. "I even do it myself sometimes."

She recommends bending the elbows and lifting the screen up, closer to eye level. Also, if you must work on a small, handheld device for extended periods, take breaks, sit up tall with your head held high and try to relax the shoulder and neck muscles.

And if you do develop neck or shoulder pain, see a physical therapist who can give you tips and exercises to address your specific complaints. Klein advises against self-treatment or just trying exercises you find online because, done incorrectly, they may cause even more damage and pain.

Information from the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.

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