Cell phone use got you down? Well, you may be feeling down because you’re looking down. Cell phone use — “tech neck” — really does affect your spine and body!

Everyone uses digital technology these days. Young children, senior citizens, and everyone in between can often be found on their cell phones or iPads, as the variety of available gadgets continues to expand. While recent advances in technology are impressive, research shows that it may be having a surprising impact on human health. (1)

Of course, cell phones are extremely convenient. Not only can you communicate with someone while you’re out and about, but you can also snap pictures, take videos, keep notes, fill in your calendar with birthday and other event reminders, catch up on the latest news or sports scores, and constantly have all of your favorite social media sites at your fingertips.

That’s a lot! And I think you get the point.

Accidentally leaving your cell phone at home these days can feel like you’ve left the house without putting your pants on. In fact, the cell phone has gone from a convenience to a necessity for many. (2)texting cell phone use

Let’s take a walk. You wander past a row of offices at work, then cross the street past cars waiting at a red light, and stroll through the mall or downtown market. If you really stop to look around, you’ll probably notice a consistent pattern everywhere you go.

People around you aren’t looking up.

They’re staring at their laptops and their cell phones. Whether they’re bored, escaping human interaction, checking a few websites or texting, their necks are angled down, and their eyes are fixated on the screen.

Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spinal surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, wrote a piece that was published in Surgical Technology International that details the health effects of cell phones on a person’s neck and spine. He developed the model below to show just how much extra weight is put onto the spine as the head tilts forward at an increased angle. (3, 4)

cell phone use spine Dr. Hansraj study

Figure 1. The weight seen by the spine increases when flexing the neck at varying degrees. An adult head weighs 10-12 pounds in the neutral position. As the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees. (5)

So typing a message, reading an email, or browsing the Internet with your head tilted downward can lead to an astounding 60 pounds of pressure, and the average person spends about two hours a day in this position, putting an extreme amount of force on the neck and spine! (6)

“These stresses,” Hansraj wrote, “may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries.”

Part of having good posture entails keeping the ears aligned with the shoulders and holding the shoulder blades back. This lowers stress on the body and even decreases cortisol levels. (7)

Poor posture can affect more than your neck and your shoulders. In fact, it can do any of the following: (8)

1. Deepen depression

A study from San Francisco State University tested students who walked down a hall in a slouched position verses students who skipped. The slouchers reported increased feelings of depression and lower energy than skippers.

2. Increase risk of death and disease

A recent Australian study found that after the age of 25, every hour of slouching on the couch watching T.V. reduces a viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. Another study found that people who sat for long periods of time more than doubled their risk of developing diabetes and had a 147% increase in risk for cardiovascular disease.

3. Cut off your circulation

Prolonged sitting, especially sitting with your legs crossed, can cut off circulation and lead to spider veins.

4. Stress you out

A Harvard study showed that when people adopted powerful postures such as open shoulders and straight spines, they had a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, while people who slouched showed a 15% increase in cortisol.

Good Cell Phone Practices

The quick fix for posture-related problems would be, of course, to put down your cell phone. But as we’ve seen, that’s easier said than done for a population that is fixated on technology and social media.

Instead, the next time you’re on your cell phone, focus on holding your phone straight out in front of you, without bending your head or neck downward. When typing, place your device at a 30-degree angle to protect your wrists, and keep it at a right angle when reading.  Eye level is always best! Use a standing desk, when possible while doing computer work.

Keep your neck from bending downward to avoid health complications in the future. Working on a good posture will help keep your spine and your body healthy. (9)

Try these stretches for a happier spine!

Unfortunately, cell phones don’t just mess with your posture. Check out this post on the dangers or using your cell phone at night!