Is My Cell Phone Giving Me Neck Pain?

John D. Koerner, M.D. January 24th, 2020

If you have noticed increasing soreness and pain in your neck, upper back and shoulder area, it may be due to excessive cell phone use.  The condition, called “text neck” is due to excessive time with the head and neck in a flexed position, the position most common when using your cell phone to text or perform other tasks.  The forward flexing of the neck increases the forces and pressure on the neck muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs.  This can lead to chronic neck pain.

While this condition is relatively new, any activity or occupation that requires prolonged neck flexion can cause neck pain.  Luckily, there are four ways to relieve this pain:

  1. Reduce cell phone usage! This has become more and more difficult as many of our work and social activities rely on cell phones, but any reduction in cell phone usage is likely to help reduce your neck pain. Most phones can keep track of your weekly usage, which is an easy way to track your progress. You may also have other activities that contribute to neck pain, such as working on a laptop, or even reading a book. Any activity that keeps your head and neck flexed down can contribute.
  2. Hold the phone higher.  Holding the phone closer to eye level where the head/neck are in a more neutral position will reduce the stress on your neck. This may be difficult however, if you are trying to discretely check your phone in a meetings or social setting. 
  3. Stretch! There are several stretches that should be performed multiple times per day.  Try to keep a good posture when working with your shoulders pulled back and your neck in a neutral position. 
    1. Chin tuck/neck retraction - while sitting up, move your head backward while slightly tucking your chin.  Do not tilt the head back. Instead, keep looking straight. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. 
    2. Side bending - with your head slightly retracted, bend towards the side, moving your ear towards your shoulder. Place your hand on top of your head and pull slightly to bend further. Hold for a few seconds then relax and repeat towards the other side.
    3. Scapular retraction - With your arms at your side and elbows bent to 90 degrees, pull your shoulders backward, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for about ten seconds then repeat.
  4. See a specialist. A Rothman Orthopaedic specialist should be able to rule out other serious causes of neck pain, and start you in a formalized physical therapy program if indicated.

Dr. John Koerner is an orthopaedic spine surgeon at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, and currently sees patients in Bergen County. For more information or to make an appointment, please visit www.RothmanNJ.com or call 888-636-7840.

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