Pity our poor necks, constantly bending forward for long periods as we read, text and play games on our smartphones, e-readers, iPads and other tech toys.
The result of all this continual downward gazing is a growing number of people complaining about neck and back pain - or "text neck," as the condition was dubbed by a Florida chiropractor. Slouching in a chair or on the couch reading your iPad - call it "iSlouch" - is causing similar aches and pains, say doctors.
Dean Fishman, a chiropractor in Plantation, Fla., trademarked Text Neck and changed the name of his practice to the Text Neck Institute after noticing 90 percent of his patients coming in with the same complaint, he told NBC News. "Go outside, to a restaurant, the supermarket, a gym, the airport, and notice the posture of almost everyone around you. You will see this everywhere," he said.
It's hard to know exactly how many people are affected, but consider this, as Forbes.com pointed out: There are 2.19 trillion texts sent annually by U.S. mobile phone customers. Other reports have found that we look at our phones as many as 150 times a day. That's a lot of stress on the cartilage and tissue in the neck and upper spine.
One study found that 53 percent of mobile phone users suffer numbness or neck aches. Another, from San Francisco State University and published in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, discovered that 83 percent of subjects reported some hand and neck pain during texting.
Samuel Cho, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of spinal surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said our aching necks are "due to prolonged flexion of the cervical spine," meaning those vertebrae at the back of the neck near the skull.
"Prolonged looking down or slumping too much can cause pinching of the spinal nerves and induce nerve-related pain and other more severe neurologic symptoms such as numbness, tingling and/or weakness," he explained in an email. "The more you use the device, the more likely you are going to have pain in the neck, regardless of age," he added.
What can you do to reduce these problems? Cho had these tips:
- Take breaks: Giving your neck a break is critical in managing the pain. Some experts suggest taking a break every 15 minutes. When texting, send your text and look up. Look for the next text only when you are prompted with a sound effect.
- Use a case or stand: There are products that prop up iPhones and iPads on a table or desk so the device is at an angle that is ergonomic and better for the body. When you are watching a movie or television show on your device, place it on a stand so that you are able to look straight ahead instead of craning your neck down to see it.
- Hold your phone at eye level: Try not to look down at the phone in your lap for texting or playing a game. If you are sitting, try resting your elbow on your thigh and bringing your forearm up toward your face so you're holding the phone at eye level. Then use your other hand to text, play a game or do whatever else you want to do.
- When reading, lean back and use pillows: When you are reading a book on a device, lean back into a comfortable position on the couch or in bed, and use pillows to support your head and neck. Also, prop the device on pillows so it's at your face level and not a strain on your neck.
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