Texting Affects Your Spine and Posture

Frequently hunching over to read or write text messages could be damaging your spine, according to a new Surgical Technology International study that compares looking down at a cell phone to placing a 60-pound weight on your neck.

In the new study, author Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, set out to explain that people were demonstrating poor posture while using their mobile devices. To illustrate his point, he assessed the forces incrementally experienced by the cervical spine as the head is tilted forward while texting.

Dr. Hansraj built a realistic model of the cervical spine in a finite element assessment package known as Cosmos works. He then made calculations for both the head and neck in which the forces of bending down to text were extracted in Newtons and then converted to pounds. The doctor said that the average weight was 60 Newtons (13.2 pounds or 6 kilograms), with the center of mass was located 16cm above the C7 vertebrae.

Image Above Credit: Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine

“The weight seen by the spine dramatically increases when flexing the head forward at varying degrees,” he wrote. “An adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds in the neutral position. As the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees. At 90 degrees the model prediction was not reliable.”

Nielsen claims that the average American spends about one hour per day on their smartphones, explained Olga Khazan of The Atlantic. Dr. Hansraj, however, wrote in his report that people spend an average of two to four hours each day with their heads tilted forward reading and texting using smartphones and other mobile devices.

Based on his figures, that means the average individual spends up to 1,400 hours per year placing extra stress on the cervical spine, and that a high school student could potentially spend an extra 5,000 hours in poor posture positions. Unless people train themselves to stare straight ahead into their mobile device without bending their spines, he said that the cumulative stress could “lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries.”

Dr. Hansraj, who said he believes that his is the first study to analyze the stresses in the neck region that result from incrementally moving the head forward, noted that it was “nearly impossible” to avoid using the technology that causes these problems. However, he also suggested that individuals should “make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over.”

However, as NY Magazine’s Melissa Dahl noted, “there’s a psychological component here, too. Hunching over your phone creates a closed-off posture that’s kind of the opposite of power posing, the expansive body positioning (shoulders back, chest puffed out) that social psychologists say makes us feel and act more confident. So, for the sake of your spine and your self-confidence, when you’re staring at your smartphone, try to un-hunch.”

In January of this year, another study by University of Queensland researchers showed that texting while walking “causes us to slow the pace of our walk, swerve slightly and move more robotically.”

“If you’re walking along and texting, the key issue is that you think you’re walking in a straight line. But you’re actually not,” said study author Siobhan Schabrun. “You can end up having an accident.”