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Smartphones can be a pain in the neck


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Cellphones may be affecting people's posture more than they ever imagined. New research shows hunching over and staring at a smartphone for extended periods can damage a person's neck and overall health, leading to a degenerative condition that has been dubbed "text neck."

It doesn't take long to spot people hunched over their smartphones walking, standing or sitting.

"I had never even considered it," said Chelsea Adams, a student at the University of Utah. She was checking her phone, with her head bent over as she walked across campus. "A lot of the times I will be caught looking at a text or checking Instagram. It's just something to do so I don't look awkward," she said.

New research published by Kenneth Hansraj, M.D., a spine surgeon in New York, focuses on the rise in "text neck." The condition is caused by tilting the head down while looking at a smartphone. More than half of Americans own a smartphone, putting them at risk, and teens, who spend up to an additional 5,000 hours on their phones, are especially vulnerable, Hansraj says.

"It isn't the best for our posture," said Linda Scholl, a University of Utah physical therapist. "It's not correct posture, but kind of leaning forward," she said, tilting her head.

Scholl says most people have hunched their heads plenty in the past, reading books and working at desks. But those activities rarely match the amount of time people spend on their smartphones.

People are spending more time leaning forward, paying attention to what's in front of them, instead of having their posture upright and looking at the world around them.

–Linda Scholl, a University of Utah physical therapist

"People are spending more time leaning forward, paying attention to what's in front of them, instead of having their posture upright and looking at the world around them," said Scholl.

The human head weighs about 12 pounds, said Scholl. As it tilts further forward, the weight of the head on the cervical spine increases. By the time the tilt reaches 60 degress, "You have about 60 pounds worth of pressure going through your spine," said Scholl. "So, that soft tissue has to hold the weight of the head in this forward position."

That's not only bad for the neck, research shows it can lead to more serious side effects like reduced lung capacity, neurological issues and even heart disease.

Scholl recommends a few stretches and exercises to keep the neck and muscles from getting too tight.

She says focus on proper alignment, with head over shoulders, shoulders over hips and hips over ankles.

Try loosening the muscles a few times every hour, especially when using the phone for prolonged periods. In a seated position, sitting up straight, squeeze the shoulder blades together in the back to open up the muscles in the shoulders and chest.

Or, standing in a doorway, brace your arms against the side door frames and gently lean forward. Again, Scholl said, that opens up the chest and gets the back muscles involved.

When looking at your phone, she also recommends pulling your chin in as though you are cradling a peach under your chin. This will put your chin in the proper place. Look down with your eyes instead of tilting your head.

"The most important thing is: just check where your head is," said Scholl.


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Jed Boal


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