Increasing numbers of Americans own and use mobile devices in everyday life. In fact, the average number of hours per day spent on mobile devices is over 2.5 hours, and most of that is spent using apps and does not include talk time. It’s no wonder then that we are also experiencing increased neck pain, but there are ways to reduce back and neck pain associated with our use of phones, e-readers, tablets and other devices.
The human neck was not designed to sit at a computer for several hours a day and then stare down at a mobile device for a few more hours. We need range of motion. It all goes back to that seemingly old-fashioned word: posture. Gone are the days that we practiced carrying a book on our heads to learn proper balance and alignment. Now we carry those books in the palms of our hands on small devices that place our necks at awkward angles for extensive periods of time. While we may be less formal than in generations past, bad posture while using mobile devices contributes to tension headaches, shoulder and back aches, neck pain and even numbness. The pain is caused by the neck supporting the weight of the head when it is bent forward. This can cause strain or even injury to the cervical vertebrae’s spinal disks as well as to muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Once damage is done, you may need to work with a physical therapist to correct it.
Whatever you use your mobile devices for, they are part of your normal routine now. They are certainly pain saving compared to carrying around a bag of books, games, a laptop and more! Our phones, iPads and e-readers provide us access to search engines, shopping, reading, social media and entertainment in ways we have never had before. It is not likely that these devices will go away anytime soon, but instead become even more in demand. There are steps you can take to proactively minimize your pain and injury risks.
1. Hold your device at a reasonable height so your head and neck remain upright. The optimal way to do this is to hold your device as close to eye level as you can. The angle is important because the most common way devices are held, as memorialized in many a satirical cartoon, is at chest height. The effort of the heck to extend down and out in that way is the number one culprit of neck pain. Don’t lean down to your device, bring your device up to you.
2. When using a tablet, we often are doing other things and look for a hands-free option. Consider investing in a case that includes a stand that ensures a 45-degree angle when you are seated at a table or desk. If you use your tablet in the kitchen while doing other things, consider placing the stand on a higher shelf or cabinet, where it will be near your eye level.
3. If you sit while using your device, make sure to alternate siting and standing and to shift in your sitting position frequently. If you are holding your device, this includes shifting hands.
4. Give yourself a break. Along with neck pain, eye strain is common from using a device for long periods. For every 20-30 minutes of device use, you should give yourself at least a 10 minute break. Rub your shoulders, roll your neck, stretch your back and change your position during the break. If you have been sitting, stand up and walk a bit. Your circulatory system and eyes will also thank you.
5. Provide appropriate support to your neck if you use your device while lying down. If you read while in the bathtub, consider investing in a tub pillow. If you use your device or e-reader while in bed, use pillows to prop your neck and also switch positions frequently. Even when sitting on your sofa, cushions or pillows can provide additional support to reduce neck pain for a more comfortable experience.
If you follow these steps and still find that neck pain continues when using mobile devices, you should see your physical therapist to help determine the cause and additional solutions.