Stress on the Spine: Social Media Neck Syndrome
October 17, 2018

A decade ago the great postural concern for health practitioners was the weight of backpacks when worn by students and travellers.  Backpacks were commonly slung over the shoulder, often heavily weighted with text books or camping gear.  It took some time for this trend to change.  Since 2015, it has been far more common to see the backpack worn over both shoulders – still too low and too heavy in most cases, but a move in the right direction.

In the past 10 years a new postural concern has developed and it’s to do with smart phones, texting, social media and gaming.

According to the numerous surveys, social media use is increasing by the year, with younger users (especially teens) spending the most time texting and online.  The postural concern here lies not in the consumption of social media, but the way it is accessed.

Smartphones are the most common means of accessing social media sites.  In a three year study of over 1000 people “70% of adults and 30% of children and teens reported that their use of electronic devices had caused them neck, shoulder, wrist or finger pain”.

For the Chiropractic profession this isn’t a surprising outcome.

The more concerning the issue would be the impact that this has on the cervical spine (neck).  A recent study by Kenneth Hansraj measured the weight of the head when in a neutral position, an in increments as the head moved forward.

In a neutral head position (with the lateral posture line running straight through the earlobes and shoulders, with shoulder blades retracted), the average human head weighs 4.5 – 5.5 kilograms.

However, as the head moves forward, this number increases drastically.

  • At 15 degrees, the head weighs 12.3 kilograms.
  • At 30 degrees, it increases to 18.2 kilograms.
  • At 45 degrees, it weighs 22.3 kilograms.
  • At 60 degrees, it exerts a force of 27.3 kilograms.

Reviewing these numbers, it’s obvious that headaches, neck and shoulder pain is a given.

The degenerative affect this has on the anterior cervical spine should be deeply concerning says Hansraj a leading spinal surgeon.  “When your head tilts forward, you’re loading the front of the disks.  Unfortunately pain and degenerative changes will continue unless corrected.

Hansraj’s study stated “Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the spine.  These stresses lead to early wear and tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.”

“People spend an average of 2-4 hours a day with their heads tilted over reading and texting on their smart phones and devices.  Cumulatively this is 700-1400 hours a year of excess stresses seen about the cervical spine.  It is possible that a high school student may spend an extra 5000 hours in poor posture.

What can you do now?

Firstly, check your posture and have a check -up to see if you are already damaging your spine.  Ask for postural advice and exercises and other tips they may have.  Use ergonomically configured desktop arrangements where possible (where the eyes are level with the top of the screen).

Encourage phone users to raise their phone to eye level rather than bending their head to look down.  This can be done (without looking odd) by using the free hand to support the elbow or waist or wear ear plugs.