Stress On The Spine: The Downside Of Prolific Social Media Use

Ten short years ago, a great postural concern for chiropractors was the way backpacks were worn by students and young people. They were commonly slung over one shoulder, often heavily weighted with text books and other items. It took some time for this trend to change. In 2015, it is far more common to see the backpack worn over both shoulders – still too low in most cases, but a move in the right direction.

However, a new postural concern has entered the arena, and it has to do with smartphones, texting and social media usage.

According to numerous surveys, social media use is increasing by the year, with younger users (especially teens) spending the most time texting and online. The postural concern here lies not in the consumption of social media, but the way it is accessed.

Smartphones are the most common means of accessing Facebook and other social media sites. In a three year study of 1049 people, “70% of adults and 30% of children and teens reported that their use of electronic devices like smart phones, tablets and laptop computers had caused neck, shoulder, wrist or finger pain[1].”

For a chiropractor this would not be a surprising outcome. The more concerning issue would be the impact that this has on the cervical spine. A recent study by Kenneth Hansraj [2] measured the weight of the head when in a neutral position, and in increments as the head moved forward.

In a neutral head position (with the lateral posture line running straight through the earlobes and shoulders, with shoulder blades retracted), the average human head weighs 10-12 pounds (4.5-5.5 Kilograms). However, as the head moves forward, this number increases drastically.

  • At 15 degrees, the head weighs 27 pounds (12.3 kilograms)
  • At 30 degrees, it increases to 40 pounds (18.2 kilograms)
  • At 45 degrees, it weighs 49 pounds (22.3 kilograms)
  • At 60 degrees, it exerts a force of 60 pounds on the cervical spine. (27.3 kilograms)
  • At 90 pounds the force could not be measured.

When we look at these numbers, headaches, shoulder pain, and stress around the spine is absolutely unsurprising. The degenerative affect this can have on the anterior cervical spine, over years of usage, should be deeply concerning. Says Hansraj, a leading spinal surgeon, “When your head tilts forward, you’re loading the front of the disks [3].”

Hansraj’s study stated “Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the spine. These stresses may lead to early wear and tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.”

“People spend an average of 2 – 4 hours a day with their heads tilted over reading and texting on their smart phones and devices. Cumulatively this is 700 – 1400 hours a year of excess stresses seen about the cervical spine. It is possible that a high school student may spend an extra 5,000 hours in poor posture.”

This should be a significant concern for chiropractors, digital media users and especially parents of high school students. But how can we fix this problem when cellphone use and media use is so prevalent, with no imminent signs of slowing down?

In truth, it may take a while to correct. Much like the postural concerns of yesteryear when the backpack took a while to move to both shoulders, it all starts with awareness.

What can you do now?

  • Encourage your patients to use ergonomically configured desktop arrangements where possible (where the eyes are level with the top of the screen)
  • Encourage cellphone users to raise their phone to eye-level rather than bending their head to look down. This can be done (without looking odd) by using the free hand to support the elbow at the waist
  • Advise patients on posture correction stretches they can use.

References

[1] www.mensfitness.com/gear/is-your-smartphone-making-you-hunch

[2] Hansard, K () “Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head,” Neuro and Spine Surgery, Surgival Technology International XXV

[3] Dayton, L (2015) “Teens compulsive texting can cause next injury, experts warn” Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-text-next-20150404-story.html#page=1

 

Comments are closed.