Next time you find yourself surrounded by strangers in a public space—in line at the grocery store, in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, on the train to work—look around. How many people do you see with their heads down, buried in their cell phone or other device? Students and working adults: in the library, classroom or office, how many of your peers or coworkers are slouched over their computers?
Most of us have been guilty of it before. The gift of modern technology is accompanied by the inevitable damage it causes, including addiction. Addiction to technology is especially prevalent in America’s youth, and it is this population that faces the greatest long-term health problems as a result. Many health specialists have conducted studies to gather data on the relationship between millennials and their devices, and these studies have overwhelmingly proven that addiction to technology has a negative impact on our health in many ways.
This blog post will only briefly discuss the link between technology usage and chronic pain; we encourage all our patients and readers to explore the additional research that exists on the topic.
In 2009, Floridian chiropractor Dean Fishman noticed signs of premature spinal degeneration in the x-rays of several of his teenaged patients. Their spines were curving and causing them neck pain. He called the condition “text-neck” when he realized that it was caused by his patients tilting their heads downward for extended periods of time in order to see their cell phone screens.
Though the name might be funny, text-neck is actually a very serious condition that could leave the millennial generation with permanent spinal damage. As seen in the illustration attached, the further your head leans forward and down, the more weight rests on your cervical spine. “The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds”(Washington Post). Sixty pounds on your spine… that is like carrying an eight year old around your neck!
Another common chronic pain condition associated with the use of technology is back pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience back pain at any given moment. A lot of different behavior can contribute to this pain, but in terms of screen time, the most common contributor is the “computer slouch”. Whether at your work desk or in bed with your laptop, it is easy to become comfortable working in a position in which your back is hunched over your screen, but this will most likely cause back pain. Of course, ergonomics exists to address this problem, but the focus of the field is worker productivity. We are more concerned about avoiding chronic back pain for your own personal well being.
Adjusting the conditions of your interactions with technology can help prevent or at least minimize these chronic pain issues. Instead of looking down at your phone, try to hold your phone up, almost at eye level. It may look silly, but your neck will thank you. Try and place your computer at eye level as well and find a sitting position that lets your back remain comfortably upright. You can also buy a lumbar support for your desk chair. Limit the amount of consecutive screen time you spend in order to prevent migraines. Try not to look at a screen for at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping. Look into downloading an app that changes the color of your device’s display to a more eye-friendly tint (i.e. “f.lux”). Spend some portion of every day in natural light in order to counter the artificial blue light emanating from your screen at night.
We are not condemning technology… rather, encouraging users to be responsible in their use of it. Many people do not have the privilege of preventing chronic pain because they experience it as a result of an injury or disease. Chronic pain as a byproduct of our relationship to technology, however, can be avoided or at least controlled. Just as pain management entails personal accountability, we must all pledge to be conscious technology users in order to get the most out of the amazing inventions around us!