Does Hunching Over Smartphones Hurt Our Spines?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Many of us are guilty of it every day: staring down at our phones while returning texts and emails or playing games.

According to one study, people spend an average of 2-4 hours a day hunched over their smartphones, which puts a lot of stress on the spine.

According to a study by spinal and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, our common neck position can increase the pressure on our spine by five times the normal amount. He says that can lead to irreversible damage.

“It’s important for people to take the necessary steps now to avoid any future health risks,” Hansraj said. “While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over.”

His study looked at the pressure on the spine when people tilt their heads between 0 and 60 degrees. The average human head weighs 10-12 pounds in the neutral position. But, as the head tilts forward to 15 degrees, the force on the neck is 27 pounds. It increases to 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.

“That is quite a lot,” said Courtney Tanaka, a physical therapist with the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. “If our postures aren’t correct in the time being, we’re going to pay for it later in life.”

Tanaka says our spine has natural curves to it and by standing with our heads forward or at an angle, that increases the pressure on the spine, muscles and ligaments. She said it could not only cause cross-body syndrome, which causes a person to hunch over all the time, but it can pull muscles, strain ligaments and wear on discs.

“As you wear and tear on your discs, all of a sudden you have bone-on-bone and that hurts,” she said. “That’s considered the arthritis that most people complain about later in life”

She says a few minutes a day won’t be hurtful, but several hours accumulated over the day can cause damage. And, for many people, sitting at a computer for most of the day doesn’t help. Tanaka recommends checking your posture every 30 minutes.

When discussing good posture, she tells her patients to pretend their rib cages are egg and their hips are basket.

“Set your egg on top of the basket, squeeze your shoulder blades back towards your pockets and tuck your head back so your ears are on top of your shoulders,” she said. “It could be tiring if you’re over-correcting. It’s a little more comfortable if you’re not over-correcting.”

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