Mobile phone back pain, also commonly known as text neck, has become a serious problem for millions of people worldwide and is one of the fastest growing diagnoses in the dorsalgia industry. The proliferation of mobile phone technology has allowed much of the world to stay connected on the go, including the ability to use social media, surf the internet and play a wide range of games on their devices. The direct result of technological advancement is that some people can not put their device down and spend every available moment staring hypnotized into its tiny screen.
There is much controversy about the overall negative health effects of using mobile phones for extended time periods. Scientists believe that the practice might create problems for the eyes and the brain, while psychologists and sociologists point out the obvious unhealthy isolation from “real life” faced by many people with mobile phone addictions. However, we will take the opportunity to discuss a proven detrimental consequence of excessive phone use: neck and back pain.
This dialog explores the reasons why using a mobile phone can cause back pain, and well as what types of symptoms might be created. Finally, we will discuss prevention and treatment practices that can stop pain and restore health to the spine and dorsal musculature.
Causes of Mobile Phone Back Pain
Using a mobile phone is certainly not inherently damaging to the back or spine. However, long periods of poor posture associated with normal mobile phone usage certainly can be pathological. Most people stand or sit for hours at a time looking downward at their handheld device. This action causes them to flex the neck and curve the upper back in order to properly view the device.
The spine is designed to perform a wide range of movements, including neck and back flexion. However, the spine was not designed to maintain stressful positions for long periods of time without suffering some detrimental consequences. Text neck, or mobile phone back pain, is one of these possible negative effects.
Flexing the neck and upper back for long periods of time puts great strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the head and maintain good posture. In turn, these stressed soft tissues can not adequately support the spinal column, which will in turn also suffer structural deterioration that can affect the spinal points, intervertebral discs and even the vertebral bones themselves.
Remember that a normal spinal position will hold the weight of the head and body upright and supported by a multiply-curved vertebral column that is well designed to mitigate stresses. However, when the weight of the head and upper body is moved forward and off of its central axis, then the stresses to all the spinal and soft tissues are multiplied exponentially. When the neck pulls forward, this increases the stress on the upper back, middle back and even lower back, since all the dorsal muscles and spinal structures work together to provide stability and movement to the torso and limbs. We cover this topic in our discussion of forward head posture.
Symptoms of Mobile Phone Back Pain
The symptoms of mobile phone back pain can be diverse, although there are common manifestations that affect most patients, including all of the following expressions:
Chronic tension and stiffness becomes a regular occurrence in the neck and upper back. Many patients experience soreness in between the shoulder blades. Pain may become more severe if the patient continues to utilize their phone in poor anatomical postures, creating acute neck pain and upper back pain that may radiate into the shoulders, arms or hands unilaterally or bilaterally.
Headaches are commonplace and usually consist of the cervicogenic variety that has their origins within the neck anatomy itself.
Patients often develop chronic postural issues that are visually obvious, such as rounded shoulders and forward head posture.
Less commonly, patients might also suffer any or all of the following symptoms from using their mobile phone:
Patients might suffer radiating pain into the hands and wrists.
Other patients may experience pain in the ears, eyes, face, jaw or teeth unilaterally in most cases, but bilaterally being possible, as well.
Some patients express vertigo or dizziness and may also suffer such rare symptoms as tinnitus and difficulty swallowing.
People who sit forward, bending sharply at the waist to reduce the angle that their neck requires to view the device when seated, may suffer related lower back pain and/or sciatica.
Preventing and Treating Phone-Related Back Pain
Preventing mobile phone back pain is easier than treating it, but both goals can be successfully achieved using targeted practices that address the reasons for pain to exist:
Prevention should consist of always utilizing proper posture when using a mobile phone or other handheld electronic device. Hold the device at eye level and do not slouch or slump the head or body to view the device at chest or waist height, as people tend to do. Use a device stand or virtually reality glasses to view the screen when possible or simply hold the device up higher, changing hands regularly to prevent arm strain.
Be mindful of the amount of time spent on your device. Besides back pain, long hours on any electronic device can cause eye strain and might negatively affect the brain.
Stretch the body and move to different positions throughout the day if you must work on your device. Do not maintain a static posture for more than 20 minutes at a time. Take breaks to exercise, as well as to rest the body and mind.
If pain already exists, try implementing all of these preventative measures, as well as spending less time on the device and more time getting some much needed exercise. Massage might help, but avoid drug treatment, as these poisonous substances will degrade overall health and make the problem worse from a holistic perspective.