How Technology Use Affects the Spine

December 9th, 2019

Back pain is the single leading cause of disability around the world. Nearly 65 million Americans have reported an episode of back-related pain in the 2018, and the number figures to grow in coming years.

The back is a complex structure to understand, made up of muscles, ligaments, bones, nerves, and discs.  With smart phones and computers being used more consistently in everyday life, it’s easy to put unwanted strain on these muscles and ligaments in our necks and spines. Because overuse of this technology can lead to poor posture and a number of other injuries down the line, it can be dangerous to a person’s overall health without the right attention.

Knowing the risks can go a long way in protecting you from these undesirable pains, which is why Rothman Orthopaedics put together this summary to review the common causes of back pain and bad posture, as well as how to avoid it.

The Affects of Phone Use

The American Chiropractic Association estimates that 80 percent of workers will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. And with the increase in cell phone use, people are becoming more likely to hunch their shoulders as they stare down towards their laps, habitually creating poor posture. Cell phone use like this can lead to arthritis, nerve pain, headaches and more.

Think about it: the average human head weighs about 10-12 pounds. However, for every 15 degrees forward that we lean our head, the more weight being distributed that our neck to needs to sustain. The weight distribution is as follows:

  • 15 degrees forward feels like 27 pounds
  • 30 degrees forward feels like 40 pounds
  • 45 degrees forward feels like 49 pounds
  • 60 degrees forward feels like 60 pounds.

By sitting with our head leaned over at such a high angle, we put our neck and spine at risk of being pulled out of alignment. Increased strain of our necks can be dangerous and lead to muscle spasm, pinched nerves, and herniated discs. Over time and in many cases, persistent symptoms may require additional treatment, including epidural injections and spine surgery.

Sitting Down

More than 264 million days of work are lost each year in America due to low back pain. For people sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, the lack of movement can take a toll on the spine and neck. However, there are multiple measures you can take to ensure your back doesn’t fall victim to pain down the line.

Don’t cross your legs. Crossing your legs has a negative effect on your posture, as well as the pelvis, lower back, and hips. When sitting, make sure your feet are on the floor, with your ankles resting in front of your knees.

Move around. Taking brief walks is good for blood flow and posture, as well as work efficiency. By getting up to stretch your muscles every so often, you can relieve muscle tension.

Have a posture-friendly workstation. When at work, make sure your back, legs, and thighs are fully supported by the chair you’re sitting in. If your chair is forcing you to look down at the computer screen, consider lowering the height to remove some of the strain it may bring to your neck and spine.

Be mindful. When using a phone or other device, be aware of the position your body is in. Relax your shoulders so they aren’t rounded or pulled backwards. Keep your elbows close to your body and bent between a 90 and 120 degree angle.

How to Have Good Posture

At its core, good posture is more than just having a straight back. It brings with it a number of benefits that span across the whole body, making for a healthier, happier lifestyle.

From stronger muscles, to better joint care, to higher energy levels – paying attention to your posture is the easiest way to take a preventative approach in your health.

Recommendations to help keep your spine and neck in tip-top shape include:

  • Stand up straight and tall
  • Make sure your shoulders are resting in line with your hips – not slouched or pulled back
  • Head should be straight and level with the floor
  • Stomach pulled in
  • Weight should be mostly on the balls of your feet
  • Feet shoulder-width apart
  • Arms should hang naturally at the sides

It can be difficult to maintain some of these practices for someone without a strong, healthy body. Sometimes, keeping a straight back is less about habit and more about lack of strength. Focusing on exercises that build strength in the back, chest and shoulders can keep your spine properly aligned and reinforce good posture through muscle memory.

Additionally, outside factors can contribute to a lack of posture. Smoking for instance, can impair blood flow, which negatively affects spinal tissue. Sleeping on a firmer mattress can change the way you stand by providing more support for your spine while you sleep. Even maintaining a healthier diet and weight will make standing up straight feel an easier task.

Taking preventative steps now can lead to a healthier future in the long run. While it may seem minor, maintaining good posture can make a big difference in the way we live our lives. If you feel like your posture can use some help, take a look at our spine specialty page for more information.

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