‘Smartphone neck’ a matter of concern

Dr M K Mam
Smartphone, the most portable electronic device has become an integral part of today’s life with lot many people. It is a reliable device that is used almost for everything in day to day activities like communications, typing, texting ,internet browsing , gaming, photography, entertainment, learning, banking, work and what not.
Many of us especially younger ones spend lot of time sharing photos, stories, videos etc. about their activities. It is a fact that the number of users of smartphone, its usage- duration and frequency has increased a lot in recent past, more so during COVID epidemic. Daily screen time is getting longer and longer in people, more so in younger ones. It won’t be wrong to say that most of us have become very much dependent on it. People just cannot think of the life without it, life somehow is incomplete without it. All that is fine, but the fact is that people somehow or other overuse the smart phone and use it in wrong position. It is not uncommon to see people of all ages bent forward looking at their smart phones. Again, we also see some crazy people especially the younger generation holding the smartphone in very awkward positions like between head and shoulder while doing some other work.
It is a fact that with tremendous increase in number of smartphone users with an increase in its usage frequency and duration, the problems of bad posture and the effects thereof especially of the neck and shoulder have also increased. As such, it is not uncommon to have lot many people especially younger ones visiting doctor for discomfort, pain ,stiffness of the neck, shoulder etc. and the reason usually is prolonged use of smart phones that too in wrong position with head and neck bent forward. Neck and shoulder pain , nowadays is found even in kids and teenagers, which was something not seen before. Research has shown that continuous long period use of smartphone induces neck discomfort , pain etc. That is why it has been labelled as ‘smartphone neck’. As a matter of fact, ‘smartphone neck’ is getting very common. A study demonstrated a significant positive correlation between duration of mobile phone usage and the duration and severity of neck and shoulder pain in university students.
It has been found that the frequency and duration of smartphone usage, degree of forward bend of neck while using the smartphone and the position of the body are the factors that are associated with neck and shoulder pain and its severity. Over and above all ,it is the wrong posture while using the smartphone that very badly affects the neck. As it is, we hold the smartphone with one or two hands , usually below the level of eyes looking down at smartphone bending our neck and use thumb and fingers for touching the screen- texting etc. Forward bending changes the natural posture of head and neck, involves an awkward posture that very often is maintained for a long time. It has been found that repetitive and prolonged forward bending posture of head during smartphone use is a risk factor for neck pain. It has also been reported that of the three activities i.e. texting, browsing and video watching, texting may be the biggest contributor of smartphone use related neck pain, that is why it is also known as ‘ text neck’ . Over the time this abnormal posture strains the muscles and ligaments of neck and upper back , and this leads to wear and tear not only of muscles and ligaments but also of bones and joints of neck and upper back. What all needs to be done:
Smartphone of course is a wonderful electronic device , however we need to control its usage and use it maintaining correct posture in order to avoid bad effects on our health that include musculoskeletal problem especially that of neck. Correct posture of neck means the bones and joints of neck are in correct alignment, so that muscle and ligaments function properly and weight is distributed evenly, with the results the stress put on ligaments, muscles, bones, joints etc. is minimised. When we look at neck and upper back from the side, we find there are natural smooth curves i.e. backward concavity in neck and backward convexity in upper back. Looking at neck and back from behind, it is vertical- there is no side curvature. A correct posture for neck naturally means that the natural curves of spine are maintained. While using a smart phone, the crown of the head has to be at the highest point above the shoulders and chin parallel to the floor with ears in line with shoulders. A vertical line can be drawn between ear and shoulder. We should arch the neck and shoulders backwards so that that shoulders are in proper alignment with ears. It is important that head is not tilted down, instead we should look forward with chin parallel to floor and at the same time raise the phone so that it is at the level of eyes. In short, we need to raise the viewing angle, keep the head up. The screen has to be at the level of eyes, thereby we do not have to drop the head down, thereby maintain the natural posture.
It is good to control- decrease the duration and frequency of usage of smartphone, however it just may not be possible to completely limit its usage. Most important thing is that we maintain correct posture while its usage. When we have to use it for longer period, we should take regular break. Regular exercise to strengthen muscles of neck and shoulders is essential to improve and maintain good posture. Yoga improves flexibility of joints, strengthens muscles, bones and whole body , as such helps improve and maintain a good posture. Regular exercise and Yoga has to be a MUST TO DO activity of our daily schedule. Studies have shown that exercise program for posture correction relieves shoulder, neck ,mid back and low back pain, and can help in improving work efficiency of the people.
Smart phone being used by people of all ages including children, it is important to educate the people especially our children and younger generation to optimise the use of smartphone and use it maintaining correct posture, and this education has to start in early childhood. This can be achieved only if the adults lead by example instead of simply nagging the children.
(The author is Formerly, Vice Principal , Prof and Head Orthopaedics, Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab.)