A few months ago we received the news that WhatsApp, the messaging application par excellence, had already surpassed the barrier of one billion users, there is nothing. Billion users that check the more than 42,000 million messages sent daily, with his head bowed and eyes fixed on the screen of your phone. Can this habit lead to problems for our health?
Since the publication of the famous studio surgeon Kenneth K. Hansraj on the pressure receiving our neck when placed in the usual position to read or write to the mobile phone have run rivers of ink on whether the use of new technologies can make us more harm that well when we talk about our physical state. Let’s see if the use (and abuse) of the mobile phone is as bad as we have said it is.
The trigger: The study of Hansraj
In 2014, Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, head of spinal surgery and rehabilitation in New York, published in Surgical Technology International, a magazine specializing in advances in surgery, a study in which the stress level supported by the column was evaluated cervical depending on the position of the head and neck. Quickly this study was viral, surely because of the image that we see on these lines: in it we can see how the load for our cervical vertebrae changes relative to the degree of bending of the neck and the advancement of the position of the head.
The study was conducted from a three – dimensional simulation in which the weight supported by the neck in different positions was calculated. In a “normal” (straight and eyes forward head) position our neck supports about 60 newtons of force, which would be equivalent to about 6 kilos of weight on our vertebrae. In this position, the center of gravity is about 18 centimeters above the C7 vertebra.
Bending the neck forward involves changing the center of gravity and the actual weight that supports our neck. In a flexed position of 60 degrees, which is what we have when we put the phone in our lap to read whatsapp messages, the weight is supported by our cervical approximately 27 kilos.
The conclusion of the study Hansraj is this and no other: a greater flexion of the neck and advancement of the position of the head, greater weight is supporting our neck. In addition, this should be taken into account when performing spinal surgeries to rebuild the neck.
The consequences of this position in our body
A few days ago we talked about the consequences of poor posture can have on our health, so more specific to the health of our back. In the case of the posture we adopt when we use our mobile phone the most suffered consequence is usually overload the muscles of the neck-shoulder area (in the upper back, particularly in the trapezoids) and pain in the neck after holding a flexed position that is not natural for us for a long time.
Some experts have called this disease by the indiscriminate use of mobile phones in an incorrect posture as the text neck syndrome or “syndrome text neck”. In addition to pain and tension in the neck and shoulders referred you may also experience headache or muscle spasms because this position activates the trigger point or trigger points , nodules that generate pain with overload or compression.
According to the definition of this syndrome, poor posture also maintain long will result in pain and a possible chronic injury. As a general recommendation, as we said Miguel Lopez Pareja, physiotherapist, “it is best to avoid spending too much time in the position with the steep head and lead an active life to offset the sedentary lifestyle and time we spend in front of screens”.
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Is this as alarming as it seems?
Is mobile phone use can actually lead to a complication for our health? Is it as bad as at first seems after reading the news headlines, as “This is what WhatsApp does to your back”? Well, there are nuances. Let’s see what they are.
First, the position of flexed neck and head forward is not exclusive to the use of mobile phones or tablets : a student in front of a book or some notes have a similar (or even worse position if the book is supported on a table and just below his head) that similarly it affects you. We just have to remember (or experience who would now touch) our time students to realize the position we used to keep in the classroom or library is practically the same. It is true that with the emergence of mobile and tablet maintain this position much longer per day, and may have been why have jumped alarms.
An illuminating article is the physiotherapist Carlos Castano “Your neck, mobile and famous 27 kilos”, which dissects the study of Hansraj and brings up some studies on the underlying issue that really should concern: Would more neck flexion and head forward position are related to pain in the area?
Hansraj speaks in his study of stress, strength and weight to which is subjected the cervical spine with a higher or lower neck flexion, but not the relationship between neck pain or back with these factors. In fact, as Brown points out in his article, studies like this done on nurses or the other about musicians in which the conclusion is that there is no association between the posture or position of the neck and pain (at least in these two groups). In this other study of adolescents and published in 2016, also cited by Brown, it stated that there is no association between the position of the cervical spine and head and neck pain.
So should we stop worrying?
We must not stop worrying about our position in general, whether we are reading, using your mobile phone or reading in our tablet, but we must not be alarmist : An active lifestyle in which we move every so often (remember that the human body is designed to keep moving) and a responsible use of technology are fully supported.
Raise the head of the mobile (or book) from time to time, mobilize our joints, walk to improve circulation and oxygenation of tissues and maintain regularly a position in which we are comfortable and relaxed benefit our health in the long term.