Is Your Kids’ Smart Phone a Pain in the Neck?
Question: How much does a typical head weigh?
Answer: Nope it’s not 8lbs….the Jerry Maguire movie was wrong!
In fact, a typical head weighs 10-15lbs, that’s almost the weight of a 10 pin bowling ball. Now imagine gluing that bowling ball onto the end of a broomstick. If you hold the broom upright, it’s not too difficult to keep it balanced, but imagine how hard it would be to hold, if you tip the broomstick forward at an angle. That’s the same workload that the small muscles of your neck and upper back have to do when you hang your bowling ball head forwards when hunching at the computer or looking down at your phone.
The further forward you tip your head from vertical, the greater the workload for your neck and upper back. In fact, tipping your head forwards 60° can result in up to 60lbs of force on the muscles of your neck and upper back! This posture has been nicknamed “Text Neck” and it can result in chronic headaches, muscle strain, and even potentially nerve compression.
Anyone out there have teenagers?
If so, this image probably looks pretty typical. With their near infinite capacity for slouching – and equally infinite desire to hide whatever they are looking at from their parents – kids are spending hours contorted into really unhealthy postures! The tiny screens on smartphones encourage ‘turtling up’ and kids are only too happy to adapt. One study suggests that teens are spending over 7 hrs/day on their phones and that was pre-Covid!
As the parent of a 16 year old and a 17 year old, I can tell you that it feels like they have devices in their hands 24/7, and I shudder to think how many hours they spend curled into a ball squinting at that small screen!
So is it that bad?…they’re just kids!
Knowing what you know now about the weight of the head and stress on the neck and upper back muscles, how long do you think it will be before these seemingly indestructible kids become these chronically sore adults? The posture and movement habits they start now, will stay with them through their lives.
And let’s face it, we adults aren’t a whole lot better. On average adults pick up their smartphones 58 times/day! Most interactions are less than 2 mins but can be as long as 15 minutes and 50% of the interactions start within 3 minutes of the previous interaction ending. That means we are constantly being interrupted (or interrupting ourselves) to respond to a text or look up something quickly on our devices, and can any of us guarantee our posture is much better than that of our kids?
Is slouching really that bad for us?
If you aren’t having any discomfort with your current bad habits, you may be thinking that hunching or slouching isn’t that big a deal. However, it’s important to recognize that pain from poor posture and movement habits isn’t immediate. It may take years of wear and tear on the structures in our neck and upper back before discomfort appears.
Unfortunately, once the pain DOES set in, it’s much harder to retrain the years of muscle memory that have you fixed in those hunched postures. In fact, the habits that you develop in your youth will likely stay with you into your old age. Even if you only hunch or slouch now and then, there are plenty of reasons to try to improve your posture.
Aside from the muscle strain that we previously discussed, there is research linking slouched postures to a myriad of other issues:
- Forward head position and slouched posture is correlated with increased recall of negative memories and emotions in young adults. 1
- Hunched/slouched postures can result in decreased energy and feelings of depression. 2
- Hunched postures can result in reduced confidence and self esteem, as well as an increase in Cortisol (stress hormone) and reduced testosterone in as little as 2 minutes. 3
- Collapsing through your rib cage can also negatively impact breathing and digestion.
So What Can I Do About It?
Well, let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not going to be able to prevent smartphone use…and probably, we might even struggle to reduce it – BUT, we can improve our posture and movement habits when using our devices so that we can minimize the posture-related negative effects.
Here are the tips we share with our clients to help them understand what healthy phone posture looks like:
The phone weighs less than a bowling ball (and therefore less than your head)…so keep your head balanced over your shoulders in an upright position to reduce the stress on your neck.
Remember how much easier it is to hold the broomstick and bowling ball, when the broomstick is upright.
When viewing your phone, try sitting or standing with one arm across your stomach and then rest the bent elbow of the other arm on your hand. This is a great hack that will let you hold your phone up into a perfect viewing position with very little workload for your hands and arms.
If you’re sitting in a chair or at a desk try resting your bent elbow(s) on the armrest or desktop so you can hold your phone up closer to eye level rather than keeping your phone in your lap and diving your head down to view it.
If you’re typing or texting with 2 hands, keep your elbows bent and supported against the sides or front of your body as you hold your phone up closer to your face. Don’t ‘chicken wing’ your elbows out to the sides or hold your arms out in front, as that is much more tiring and puts stress on your neck and upper back.
If you have to look down a bit to see the screen, do that with a chin tuck motion. Imagine there is a dowel running horizontally between your ears and simply rotate around the dowel tucking your chin and looking down without leaning your head forward. You can also look down with just your eyes, to minimize head movement.
Other Fun Tips!
As a parent of 2 teens I’ve come up with lots of fun (for me) ways to help them improve their posture and movement habits.
Tip #1: Walk up behind them when they are hunching over looking at their phone and run your fingernails along their spine. They will shoot upright almost immediately. Try it – it’s a great posture reminder, and well worth the sullen wrath that will surely follow!
Tip #2: When kids are hunching over a phone or iPad or e-reader at a table, grab a favorite plant, plop it down in front of them and lean the device up against the plant so they can view it with a more upright posture – they LOVE it when you do this! …. Just kidding, they hate it, but sometimes it’s fun to annoy them! If they are hunching over on the couch, grab a couch cushion and shove it in their lap and make them rest their arms and/or the device on the cushion, again, getting it positioned higher up to their face and minimizing the hunch.
Tip #3: Show them the arm across the stomach posture hack for holding the phone …they can look cool and still have good posture! Then if you ever see them doing it, celebrate with a happy dance and make sure they see you…be prepared for an eye roll and/or icy look of disdain at that point.
Tip #4: Role model good phone posture. Much as they like to pretend they aren’t paying attention, our kids are learning from us, and we have just as much to gain from improving our phone posture as they do.
Now pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for reading this article, and being such a good parent and caring so much about your child’s wellbeing! Way to go!!
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