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Text Neck Check: Smart phones can be a real pain in the neck.

Illustration by Aron Rook

We love texting.

The average American sends between 250 and 2,000 texts per month—that’s nearly 70 messages a day at the high end of the range, says Dublin-based Experian, a leading credit reporting and research company.

Even when not reading or sending texts, you may still look down at your phone for other reasons. According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of American adults own smartphones, using the devices to do everything from online banking to applying for jobs.

All this looking down is bad news for your neck, says Dr. William Beutler, medical director of the PinnacleHealth Spine Institute.

“Your head weighs between 10 and 11 pounds, so when you bend your neck forward and down, you’re increasing the weight on the cervical spine—sometimes up to 60 pounds of pressure,” he said. “The cervical spine consists of the vertebrae under the skull, and they are thin, delicate bones.”

The range of problems that develop based on chronic smartphone overuse often is called text neck.

Text neck can result in pain in the neck and upper shoulders, headaches and a change in the curve of the neck, said Beutler. Like other overuse issues such as tennis elbow or runner’s knee, it can also lead to problems that can get worse over time, he said, including:

  • Herniated and bulging discs
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle strain
  • Pinched nerves

Over the long term, poor posture can cause permanent changes and damage to the cervical spine.

“People are surprised that poor posture can be a problem, and if prolonged, it can lead to long-term issues,” says Michael L. Fernandez, assistant medical director of the PinnacleHealth Spine Institute.

“People think that neck pain and spine problems only happen to adults,” added Beutler. “But with people starting smartphone use at early ages, combined with a significant amount of time dedicated to smartphone use each day, it’s no wonder we’re seeing younger patients with complaints, including teenagers.”

Like many health problems, text neck is preventable.

“It’s hard for some people, but cutting back on using your phone is the best thing you can do. If you need to do extensive Web surfing, a smartphone is not the best place to do it,” said Beutler. “But if you must, hold the phone higher, close to eye level.”

Fernandez agrees that face height is the better option over angling your neck to look at the screen.

“Awareness is a big part of the battle,” said Fernandez. “Don’t adopt bad postures when using your phone, laptop or computer. Make sure you hold your smartphone properly and that your workspace and computer area are ergonomic.”

According to Beutler, taking frequent breaks can help too. Walking away from the phone and stretching can relieve discomfort.

You can also perform these exercises to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, he said:

  • Roll your head gently from side to side.
  • Press your head against your hands, first pressing forward, and then pushing your hands to the back to press backwards.
  • Stand about two feet back from a corner. Place your left arm on the left-side wall and your right arm on the right-side wall, and then lean in as far as possible without any pain. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to work your shoulder muscles.

“People have raised concerns about the environmental impact of smartphones, and the radiation given off by cell phones is of great interest and the subject of many studies,” said Beutler. “But device users are really underestimating the impact of smartphones on spine health.”

Fernandez added another bit of caution.

“Be smart when you use your smart phone,” he said. “Take prevention seriously so that you can avoid chronic pain and long-term consequences.”

To learn more about neck, shoulder or back pain, visit or call 1-877-499-SPINE.

Illustration by Aron Rook 

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