Mobile phones have become an essential part of our lives due to their range of capabilities and how connected to the world we can be, but are they causing us unnecessary pain?
To look at our mobile phone from a seated or standing position, requires flexion of the neck (a downward tilt of the head) so that our eye line is that of the phone. Staying in this position for a lengthened period of time requires the use of muscles of the neck region (upper trapezius and the levator scapulae).
Research conducted in 2014 by Dr. Hansraj of the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, found that people spend an average of 2-4 hours a day on their phone (700-1400 hours a year!).
The same research found that the human head puts about 10-12lbs of relative force on the cervical spine when adopting a neutral head position whilst flexion of the neck by just 15 degrees can increase this load to up to 27lbs. The picture below shows how increasing flexion increases force on the cervical spine.
Any degree of flexion causes the upper trapezius and elevator scapulae to engage, flexing of the head for lengthened periods of time, or a flexing the neck to a greater degree, causes these muscles to overwork and stay in a constant state of tension. Whist this is happening muscles such as the deep cervical flexors and the lower trapezius become weak.
So how does this relate to neck pain? The tension built up within your trapezius and levator scapulae due to excessive load and length of use, becomes a source of pain within your neck region. A weak lower trapezius can be responsible for scapula instability which in turn can cause pain within the shoulder.
Is your neck super tight to the touch? Do you grimace when someone gives you a neck massage? Do you experience pain in any of these areas?
Well there's a good chance that you spend too much time on your phone - or just too much time with your neck flexed. Your use of mobile technology in general (tablets, laptops) or the layout of your office e.g. the positioning of your computer at work, may even be causing this.
Either way you need to take steps to improve your posture and ease the load on your spine, but what can you do?
As noted at the start of this article, mobile phones are an essential part of life, you may have a business to run or important emails to send. With this in mind the first step would be to try and position your screen so that you do not need to flex your neck - hold your phone at eye level or put your computer on a stack of books, whatever it takes to reduce neck flexion.
If you spend a lot of time on your phone at home, lying with your back on the floor is an easy way to ensure your spine is in a good position and the neck isn't flexed.
Alternatively spend less time on your phone. Delete the distractions so you don't spend endless hours scrolling through Facebook or Instagram - your neck and spine will reward you in years to come!
In the gym, inclusion of activation and strengthening of the lower trapezius will help to overcome the weakness within this muscle caused by overuse of the upper portion of the trapezius. Similarly release of the upper traps and levator scapulae through myofascial release or massage will help to release tension, and reduce pain experienced from tightness and tension build up.