Tablets and smartphones are a pain in the neck

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I routinely have patients come into our office complaining of neck and shoulder pain. When I go out to the waiting room to get them for a treatment, what are most of them doing? Texting. I actually had one teenager text 24,000 texts in one month. What do you think she was coming to me for? Neck pain.

Smartphones and tablets are an integral part of many people's lives. But as research into the physical effects of using the devices has increased, scientists have discovered that neck pain may be only the beginning of phone-related problems. A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics found that 53 percent of mobile phone users suffer numbness or neck aches. Another, potentially more troubling study, led by Professor Erik Peper of San Francisco State University and published in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback discovered that 83 percent of subjects reported some hand and neck pain during texting - but also displayed other signs of tension, like holding their breath and increased heart rates. Participants in Peper's study experienced these physical symptoms of tension while texting even when they believed they were relaxed, he reported.

Most people adopt a forward-and-down head position while they text or play games on their smartphones. Judith Gold, a researcher at the Center for Musculoskeletal Research in Gvle, Sweden, found in a study of 859 subjects that 90 percent held their necks flexed defined as more than 10 degrees forward of neutral alignment while texting. The more the participants in her studies texted, she says, The greater the chance that they would experience neck or shoulder pain.

The physical stress of texting adds to the accumulated buildup of pressure in neck muscles already strained by the amount of time many of us spend in a flexed posture while sitting at desktop computers. Holding your head in such a posture can add up to 30 pounds of extra weight on your upper vertebrae which, in addition to straining the upper fibers of your trapezius muscles, can pull your spine out of alignment.

OSHA has an ergonomic evaluation checklist based on a desktop environment whose number one suggestion is that the head and neck be to be upright or in-line with the torso (not bent down/back) and facing forward. Going down the list, the trunk should be perpendicular to the floor, shoulders and upper arms in line with torso; forearms, wrists and hand straight and in line (forearm at 90 degrees); wrists and hands straight, thighs parallel to the floor; lower legs perpendicular; and feet flat.

OK. Now try that with a tablet or iPhone. It's hardly feasible.

Dr. Wayne Fichter, DC, is the lead doctor at Natural Spine Solutions, with over 15 years of experience treating families. He also has been the lead doctor in handling serious neck and back problems through non-surgical spinal decompression. Call (208) 966-4425 for all of your spinal and wellness needs.

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