A large majority of the world’s 3.4 billion smart phone users are putting their necks at risk every time they send a text, scientist says.
‘Text neck,’ as it is colloquially called, places stress on the spine and alters the neck’s natural curve, increasing the likelihood of associated soft tissue discomfort. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, highlights the high ergonomic risks to smart phone users, particularly young people, who are experiencing neck pain earlier than previous generations.
Researchers from Khon Kaen University in Thailand and the University of South Australia video recorded 30 smart phone users in Thailand aged between 18-25 years, who spend up to eight hours a day on their phones. Using a Rapid Upper Limb Assessment tool (RULA) to measure ergonomic risk levels, they found that the average score for the participants was 6, compared to an acceptable score of between 1-2.
The results identified issues with unsuitable neck, trunk and leg postures which lead to musculoskeletal disorders, said the lead researcher Suwalee Namwongsa, from Khon Kaen University.
RULA has been used to assess the ergonomic impacts of desktop computers and laptops in the past but this is believed to be the first time the tool has been used to assess ergonomic risk levels of excessive smart phone use.
Rose Boucaut, a physiotherapist at University of South Australia, said that the awkward postures adopted by smart phone users can adversely affect the soft tissues.
In a separate study published in the journal Work, the team surveyed 779 Thai university students who use smart phones, with 32 per cent reporting neck pain, 26 per cent shoulder pain, 20 per cent upper back pain and 19 per cent wrist and hand pain. Musculoskeletal disorders were more common among students with higher smart phone use (more than five hours a day) and those who smoked and did little exercise. Female smart phone users also experienced far more musculoskeletal disorders than men, 71 per cent compared to 28 per cent.
Smartphone users typically bend their neck slightly forward when reading and writing text messages. They also sometimes bend or twist their neck sideways and put their upper body and legs in awkward positions. These postures put uneven pressure on the soft tissues around the spine that can lead to discomfort, said Boucaut.
Health practitioners need to educate their patients about safe postures and curtailing time spent using smart phones to help prevent these issues, Boucaut said.