Frequent use of smart phones may be contributing to pain via common postural related disorders. The constant forward bending of the neck to look down at the phone screen is a driving factor of forward head posture (FHP). FHP is a postural position where the head and shoulders are held in front of the hips. This tightens up the tissues of the chest, upper shoulders, and back of the neck, while weakening the muscles of the mid back, rear shoulders, and front of the neck. Over time, this leads to long-term negative changes in the flexibility and strength of those muscles and tissues. FHP has been causally linked to many neck and spine related pathologies such as headaches, neck and jaw pain, muscle and ligament weaknesses, shoulder impingements and decreased respiratory function.1 The lungs and thoracic area are less able to expand and contract effectively with the position of forward head and rounded shoulders, which decreases the strength and efficiency of breathing.
Some ways to improve your posture and avoid these kind of wear-and-tear conditions from creeping up are:
Decrease unnecessary screen time by practicing other healthy habits, like going for a short walk, stretching, or practicing mindfulness if that is the most practical option for where you happen to be.
Hold you phone up at eye level to decrease the neck strain and practice good, tall posture rather than bending over forward to stare at the phone. To check for good posture, trace an imaginary straight line from your ears, shoulders and hips. With good posture they shoulder all be stacked vertically on top each other in a straight line.
If you do feel your shoulders rolling forward, practice a simple scapular exercise where you retract your shoulders together and downwards as if putting them in your back pockets. Hold that position for three seconds, squeezing the mid-back muscles together. Relax and repeat ten times. This exercise will train your ability to get into and hold a more neutral posture position and undue some of the negative effects (tightness/weakness) of the forward head/rounded shoulders position that cell phone use tends to create.
1. Lau HM, Chiu TT, Lam THJ Rehabil Res Dev. 2010; 47(9):911-8. Measurement of craniovertebral angle with Electronic Head Posture Instrument: Criterion validity.
2. Jung SI, Lee NK, Kang KW, Kim K, Lee DY. The effect of smartphone usage time on
posture and respiratory function. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016;28(1):186-189. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.186.