Our current stay-at-home order combined with the less-than-stellar (but normal) April weather has probably caused a lot of folks to spend more time on their electronic devices than they normally would.
As long as humans have been walking upright, our heads and necks were generally positioned to allow us to easily scan the horizon.
This helped us locate food, identify friends or foes, and keep our eyes peeled for hungry predators. For the past couple hundred years, modern society has made it so that we need be less concerned with these survival skills.
This means that more time is available for another basic human need; social interaction.
The ability of our mobile devices to connect us with others has more significantly changed our physical postures and movements than just about any device since the proliferation of the automobile.
The time spent walking vs. sitting changed drastically when it became more efficient and convenient to drive where we needed to go instead of walking there.
The amount of time that we spend looking down during our modern life has increased exponentially.
Between working on computers and tablets, writing in school or at work and monitoring social media accounts, we may be causing some long-term changes in the way our spine, muscles, and joints function together.
Here are a few things to think about if your neck and back have been aggravating you with all the extra downtime:
Pay attention to the cues
As far as your body is concerned, pain is information. If you’ve been staring at your phone for quite some time, you may find yourself sitting upright and pinching your shoulder blades together to relieve tension. You may even unconsciously reach up with a hand to rub your upper trap muscle between your shoulder and neck.
These are cues that your body is using to tell you that its time to change position for a while, so pay attention.
Find the right balance
A recent study looked at nearly 500 middle school students in Finland. It found 20% of middle school students who used mobile devices for two or more hours a day developed moderate to severe neck pain. An occasional look down is not likely going to cause a problem, but the study found that two or more hours a day certainly can lead to issues.
Many electronic devices have a setting that allows you to monitor your screen time, and timers can be set to remind you when to take a break.
Keep your body strong and flexible
The muscles between the shoulder blades are especially important for offsetting poor posture. A quick search online for shoulder blade strengthening will give you some good starting points. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, give your physical therapist a call for a more personalized plan.
Take a break
This is normally the point in a column like this that I would discourage someone from spending too much time on their devices, but we’re in a different world right now, so hey, no judgement. I’d simply encourage you to pay attention to the signs when your body is telling you that its time for a break. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, check out the image above. As you can see, positioning the head in front of the shoulders creates a significant strain on the neck.
If this posture is held long enough, the muscles in the back of the neck can get too strong and overdeveloped, causing force imbalance and pain at the neck.