You might find it hard to imagine a cell phone or computer as the cause of a health condition, but as it turns out, it’s really not that farfetched at all. Researchers have known for a while now that technology causes people to develop poor posture at a much younger age.
On average, Americans spend nearly six hours a day with digital media, and mobile use increased from .3 hours per day in 2008 to 3.3 hours a day in 2017. And as far as we can tell, the amount of screen time that humans are getting every day just seems to be growing.
In fact, there is a new condition called tech neck that is a growing concern among healthcare professionals, who are finding that so much time spent on digital devices is not only bad for posture, but it also affects the eyes, heart, and mood.
What is tech neck, and could it really be a cause of chronic diseases?
Repeatedly tucking your head down over your chin and hunching your shoulders while sending text messages or using your cellphone causes repetitive stress to the spine. This action repeated over and over for hours at a time makes you a good candidate for developing a tech neck (also called text neck).
On X-ray, people with tech neck have little or no curve in the neck. Severe conditions of tech neck cause reversal of the neck curve to develop, and progressive stages of degeneration can occur. Degeneration causes loss of disc space, bone spurring, and significant irritation to tissues surrounding the spine.
It’s well documented that this chronic, degenerative, head forward posture (head in downward position) results in headaches, neck and shoulder pain, stiffness, soreness, and more. Neck pain and tension is a common complaint among people who spend long hours sitting at a desk or working on a computer. But this condition is also impacting many teens, college students, and seniors as well. In fact, doctors say that tech neck is a growing problem among teenagers. This segment of the population actually averages about nine hours per day in front of screens and reports higher rates of depression and loneliness.
All that texting and scrolling takes a toll. Muscles in the back of your neck contract to hold up your head, which weighs 10-12 pounds in a neutral position. The more you look down, the harder those muscles have to work to support your head. At a 45-degree angle, your neck muscles are doing the work equivalent to lifting a 50-pound bag of potatoes. At a 60-degree angle, that increases to 60 pounds.
The excessive stress put on the neck can cause muscles and nerves to get overly tired, tense, and sore. Symptoms of tech neck include:
- Neck pain or spasms
- Stiff neck
- Pain between your shoulder blades
- Tingling or numb thumbs
- Blurry vision from too much screen time/glare
How can tech neck cause more severe problems?
As your muscles tighten and your spine shifts forward, more pressure is put on the discs in your neck and spine. This can cause your discs to wear out faster, eventually causing them to bulge or even rupture.
A ruptured disc can pinch a nerve, resulting in pain, weakness, or numbness in the arm or chronic neck pain. Also, some people report a loss of neck mobility. You may have a hard time looking up after looking down for long periods or turning your head from side to side.
To counteract the forward head shift, the upper spine shifts backward, and the hips start to tilt forward to compensate for the upper spine. This can throw your whole body out of alignment and put stress on adjacent areas.
Consider the prolonged effect of all of this weight and pressure – taxing the muscles, ligaments, vertebrae, and discs in the neck and upper back. Tensing muscles in your neck and shoulders would lead to chronic muscle issues and pain down the road.
Issues such as neck pain, back pain, and headaches should not be taken lightly; they force many people to take pain pills and most likely played a role in the last decade’s opioid crisis. Beyond that, significant damage to the spine can cause much more than just pain.
Poor posture over long periods (years), causes a faster breakdown or degeneration of the spine compared to the normal rates. This causes spinal degeneration at a younger age. Since the spine houses the nervous system (and the nervous system controls the body), this type of damage to the spine can cause the health of the entire body to decline, contributing to the development of chronic health conditions.
Postural degeneration or spinal degeneration is one significant cause of the decline of health in our nation; this is obvious. This epidemic of spinal degeneration has been fueled by the excess usage of technology in our society. This is a very similar phenomenon to the escalation of tooth decay in the 1900s due to the mass increase of processed foods and sugar to the diet.
We must first create awareness around this issue, and then our focus can be on taking actions to counteract this epidemic of spinal degeneration.
Tips to counteract postural degeneration:
There are ways to correctly and safely align the body while using mobile phones, computers, and tablets. Changing bad habits, limiting screen time, and trading scrolling for regular exercise is one of the best prescriptions.
- Hold your device at eye level
- Look down with your eyes and not your head
- Take a three-minute break for every 15 to 20 minutes spent on your device
- Use a phone or tablet holder
- For your eyes, use lubricating eye drops and reading glasses, so you aren’t straining to see or hunching over
- Be mindful of your posture when using digital devices
Chiropractic and Spinal Hygiene Exercise can help
Whether you are suffering from tech neck or chronic pain, chiropractic, and regular spinal hygiene exercises can help prevent tech neck or counteract painful symptoms. Chiropractic activities can help improve a variety of conditions resulting from irritation to the spine and nervous system. (18)
One thing is certain, technology isn’t going away any time soon. If anything, it’s going to continue to change the way we work, study, and connect with others. The biggest problem is that the majority of people are unaware that this is happing to them. You have to address your posture, your time spent on digital devices, and the mechanics and bad habits that are causing the problem.
Resources and information on spinal hygiene exercises can be found at www.HomeSpinalCare.com
- National Council on Aging – Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two. – https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/healthy-aging-facts/
- Children’s Health Defense – https://childrenshealthdefense.org/too-many-sick-children/
- An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Visual Analytics Approach to Public Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5876976/
- World Health Organization – Top 10 Causes of Death – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
- Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescription Drugs, Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center Find – https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/nearly-7-in-10-americans-take-prescription-drugs-mayo-clinic-olmsted-medical-center-find/
- World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems 2000 – https://photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html
- National Health Expenditures 2017 Highlights – https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf
- How does health spending in the U.S. compare to other countries? – https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/health-spending-u-s-compare-countries/#item-relative-size-wealth-u-s-spends-disproportionate-amount-health
- Western pattern diet – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet
- American adults are overweight or obese – http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/vast-majority-american-adults-are-overweight-or-obese-and-weight-growing-problem-among
- 6 charts that show how much more Americans eat than they used to – https://www.businessinsider.com/daily-calories-americans-eat-increase-2016-07
- How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised! – https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf
- How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? – https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/how-sugar-affects-your-body
- Lack of exercise as ‘deadly’ as smoking – https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/lack-of-exercise-as-deadly-as-smoking/
- How Lack of Exercise Affects Health – https://www.priorityhealthyorkville.com/how-lack-of-exercise-affects-health/
- Environmental Toxins and Your Health – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/transcripts/1622_environmental-toxins-and-your-health
- Vaccine Excipient Summary – https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/b/excipient-table-2.pdf
- Tech Neck – How Technology Is Affecting Your Posture – https://www.ivyrehab.com/news/tech-neck-how-technology-is-affecting-your-posture/