Humans are designed to stand up right and yet in the modern society too many people are slumped over for one simple, tiny reason: our smartphones. In fact, adults in the United States are spending on average 2-4 hours each day staring at this tiny screen causing their necks to be strained in unnatural angles resulting in all sorts of unwanted stress to the cervical spine. Typically a neck curve also known as the cervical lordosis should be 45 degrees. However, due to this text neck epidemic, the natural lordotic or “C” shaped curve is becoming less and less half moon shaped and more straight or what some may refer to as “military neck”. This is especially important for individuals who have scoliosis because they tend to already have a decreased cervical curve, a straight or military neck or even a reversed curve in their neck and spending hours a day looking down is further aggravating the problem.
The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds when it’s in the neutral or upright position, which occurs when your ears are in line with your shoulder in the sagittal or side view of your spine. Unfortunately, the overuse use of smartphones has caused many to develop “text neck” which is the term coined for excessive phone use causing what is known as “anterior head carriage” or “forward head posture” (FHP). For every inch that your head is going forward from the neutral position, you are adding 10 pounds of pressure to your neck and spinal column below. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine states that “The weight seen by the spine dramatically increases when flexing the head forward at varying degrees. Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.” Forward head posture compresses the facet joints (found between each vertebrae in your spine) and adds excess stress to the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons.
At a 30 degree forward head tilt from neutral, you are adding 40 pounds of pressure to your neck, at 60 degrees you are adding 60 pounds at 90 degrees the amount of pressure you are adding to your neck is not measurable. Bad posture has been linked to a host of medical problems including headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), muscle strains, ligamentous strains, spinal disc degeneration and osteoarthritis, shoulder and arm tingling, numbness and weakness. At a minimum, constant slouching is likely to cause a lot of chronic pain particularly in the neck, back, hips and shoulders.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid modern technology, and while engaging in proper form while texting is important for everyone, it is especially important for scoliosis patients. In order to restore the thoracic (mid back) and lumbar (low back) curves, the cervical lordosis must first be addressed and corrected. After all, it is the top portion of the very same spine that has scoliosis.
Here are some tips to combat giving in to your body’s natural affinity to slouch as well as the proper posture to text:
- Head in neutral
- Phone at eye level or above
- Engaging your abdominal muscles at 20%
- Flip shoulders out (make your arms look like they are carrying a pizza, also known as external rotation) from here you can bend your elbows to hold your phone at eye level
This position creates mechanically stable shoulders, unloads the cervical spine and engages your pectoralis muscles, muscles that have been shortened due to chronic poor posture. Here are two simple exercises that can be done to help counteract your tight/tense muscles and strengthen your overused muscles allowing your body to hold your phone at eye level effortlessly.
- Wall angles: Stand up against the wall with your arms at a 90 degree angle and level with your shoulders while maintaining contact against the wall with your tailbone and shoulder blades. Raise your arms above your head trying to keep your elbows and wrists as close to the wall as possible. Lower your arms to the starting position and repeat.
- Skydiver exercise: Lie on your stomach, reach your arms out into a Superman pose, with your palms down. Lift your arms and legs off the ground as high as you can. Without touching the ground, reach your hands all the way back toward your heels and turn them palm side up. Go back and forth twenty times without touching the ground. Resist looking up.
Following these simple yet effective steps to holding your phone in a proper neutral position will be beneficial not only to your neck but the rest of your spine as well and may prevent many future neuromuscular related issues.