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Smartphones can have negative effect on health, studies find

Posted by Amelia Bullard for The Daily Helmsman on

It is not uncommon to see many people walking around looking down at their smartphones or to see people slouched while sending a text message, but there are long-term effects that poor posture from holding cell phones and working at computers could have on the neck and spinal cord of young adults, according to a study from The Spinal Journal.

Blueberry Computer Glasses

According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of the United States population owns a smartphone, and 94 percent of those people are between the ages of 18 and 29 years old. Physicians have seen a rise in younger patients complaining of neck and back pains and attribute those pains to excessive phone use. Margaret Kedia, a physical therapist from the Campbell Clinic, said when people typically hold their cell phones, they have “forward bent posture.” The bent neck puts strain on the body, which can cause pain and stiffness to the neck area.

“A forward bent spine places more pressure on the vertebral bodies and discs and pushes tissue, including but not limited to discs, more towards the spinal cord and nerve roots,” Kedia said. “I see many of our patients experience decreased neck and back pain by simply correcting their posture.”

Correcting the posture is a simple fix to what many physicians are calling “text neck,” but some have concerns about the long term effects that may have already set in. Doctors have reported seeing spondylotic, or deterioration in the spine of younger patients, which is a symptom commonly seen in the spines of older adults, according to The Spinal Journal. The journal has also reported disc herniations and kyphotic alignment in the bodies of young adults and the common denominator between the patients is extreme use of cell phones or laptops throughout the day for extended periods of time.

Typically people who are using smartphones or laptops are not aware of the degree in which they are extending their neck and backs. The Spinal Journal reports the average person holds their phone in a position that keeps their neck in a 45-degree inflexion. The human head weighs around 10-12 pounds, and if positioned at a 45-degree angle, the neck can feel like it is holding up 49 pounds. The added weight from poor support of the head on the shoulder and neck have allowed physicians to conclude it will increase stress on the cervical spine and eventually lead to accelerated disc degeneration.

Besides possible risk to the spine, physicians have also seen other similar health issues arise. Humans blink an average 10 times less than they are supposed to when they are looking at phones, according to a study from the Northwest Primary Care Group. This means there is more strain on the eyes because tears are not being produced.

The Northwest Primary Care Group has also reported seven in 10 adults in the United States have claimed to have symptoms linked to digital eye strain, which include blurred vision, dry eyes, burning, itching and headaches. The group suggests taking long breaks in between cell phone and computer usage to prevent future physical problems from constantly occurring.