How Mobile Devices are Wrecking Our Spines

Nearly everyone has a smartphone or mobile device these days, and while there is some merit to this technology by keeping us more connected – at least virtually – it is wreaking havoc on our bodies. When you look at the posture that people assume when texting, reading email, or browsing social media while on their mobile device or smartphone, you will see their head bent forward and rounded shoulders. They typically hold the device either at chest level or waist level meaning that their hands are together, forming an almost crouch position.

This is very bad for the spine but it creates problems for other parts of the body even beyond the spine. Let’s take a look at some of the common issues that come with bad smartphone posture.

Text Neck

The more you tilt your head downward (just as you do when looking at a smartphone), the more pounds of pressure you put on your neck and back. Your spine supports the weight of your head. The more it is thrust forward, looking down, the heavier your head gets. Consequently, text neck can result in pain in the neck and upper shoulders, headaches, and a change in the curve of the neck. Like other overuse issues, such as tennis elbow or runner’s knee, it can also lead to problems that can get worse over time, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Herniated and bulging discs
  • Muscle strain
  • Pinched nerves
These problems are starting to show up more in younger and younger patients. and many Doctors are seeing many young people with this problem, some even as young as 8 years old.

Some patients report pain while others feel pressure, and others feel tightness. Sometimes the pain will spread throughout the body or from the neck to the arms and hands.

Forearm and Wrist Pain

Even the way you hold your phone in your hands can cause problems. Since you keep your hand in one position for long periods of time your muscles never have a chance to relax. You have several muscles engaged to do this: the forearms, the wrist, and the neck.

If you are experiencing pain, sometimes shooting, in your elbow or wrist your smartphone use may be the culprit. So put the phones away or leave them at home.

Sore Upper and Lower Back

As your neck struggles to support your head which is rolled forward, it stands to reason that you will experience back pain. In fact, both upper and lower back pain have been attributed to smartphone use.

Think about the muscles that run along your spine. They help stabilize it and help control and support your head. When you hunch over you strain those muscles in your upper back. What you may not realize is that similar strain is being put on the muscles in your lower back as well.

SMARTPHONE Thumb

The muscles in your hand are very small but they can cause you a great deal of pain if you frequently use a mobile device. As you type on the keyboard of your smart phone, it can cause problems with tendons and ligament as well as the muscles.

This repetitive stress of the body is caused daily by people who stay hunched over their small phone screen. The repetitive movement of your thumb as it manipulates the device can cause inflammation in the thumb and hand.

Headaches from Tension in Neck and Back

One of the most common ailments associated with mobile device usage is headaches. These headaches can come from tension in the neck, strained muscled in the back, or overworked muscles through the hand and arm into the shoulder. It can also come from eyestrain caused by staring at the screen for extended amounts of time, looking at tiny text.

There is no doubt that mobile device usage is becoming a serious problem in our society today. While there are the people who text while driving or while walking, posing a significant threat to their own and others’ safety, what they are doing to their own bodies is enough to cause alarm.

Chiropractic care can ease the pain and reverse a good portion of the damage that has been done, but if when people continue with the same bad habits the treatment is only temporary. There needs to be a focused effort made to pull people out of their mobile devices, at least a portion of the time, to minimize the structural spinal damage they are doing to themselves.

PAY ATTENTION FOR PREVENTION
The best way to prevent text neck and related problems is to limit the use of your phone. If you do check your device frequently, use your arms to hold your phone directly in front of your face rather than angling your neck to look at the screen.
You can also perform these exercises to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders:
  • Roll your head gently from side to side.
  • Press your head against your hands, first pressing forward, then pushing your hands to the back to press backwards.
  • Stand about 2 feet back from a corner. Place your left arm on the left-side wall and your right arm on the right-side wall, then lean in as far as possible without any pain. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to work your shoulder muscles.
If you have neck, shoulder or back pain that’s causing problems, the caring spine healthcare providers at Woolston Wellness Center can help. To learn more call 480-556-6797.

Ouch! What is Facet Syndrome?

Facet joint syndrome is the most common of all the recurrent, low back and neck problems, which can cause serious and disabling pain for many people. At the most basic level, facet joint syndrome is a pain in the joint between two vertebra, and it can occur anywhere in the spine.

The spinal facet joints are in constant motion; providing the spine with stability and flexibility needed for walking, running, bending, sitting, and twisting. When a facet joint is damaged, from deterioration, injury or repetitive trauma, it can become swollen, painful, and stiff.

What are the symptoms of facet syndrome?

Lower back pain, numbness in the legs and arms, headaches, migraines, neck pain, pain that fluctuates with the weather, tenderness in the spine and pain when twisting or bending the spine. When the acute lumbar or cervical facet joint inflammation is at its peak, the symptoms may closely imitate those of a herniated disc, a deep infection, a fracture, or a torn muscle of the spine.  Facet joint problem symptoms typically include unpredictable pain throughout the month/year and more discomfort while leaning backward then while leaning forward. Low back pain from the facet joints often radiates into the buttocks and down the back of the upper leg. The pain is rarely present in the front of the leg, and rarely radiates below the knee or into the foot, as pain from a disc herniation often does; similarly, cervical facet joint problems may radiate pain locally or into the shoulders or upper back, and rarely radiate in the front or down an arm or into the fingers as a herniated disc might. Lastly, most people will have tenderness over the inflamed facet joints along with some degree of loss in the spinal muscle flexibility (referred to as guarding).

Risk factors for facet syndrome include:

  • 50+ years of age
  • Excessive weight
  • Overuse due to sports or heavy labor
  • Whiplash injuries, or sleeping with a twisted neck
  • Loss of the normal spinal curve and abrupt jerk of the neck, twisting while lifting overhead, or trauma to the spine
  • Presence of disease such as gout, other types of arthritis or infections.
  • Sitting for prolonged period of time without getting up and moving / stretching

How do we treat facet syndrome?

Good posture is the key component of relieving facet joint syndrome symptoms. We examine how you carry yourself so that we can determine how you can improve the way you sit, stand, and move about. We also look for compensation patterns in other parts of your body, and aim to relieve the pressure on both your back and the surrounding muscles that are strained from working overtime.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain often arises from functional pathology (such as facet joint disorder) which then leads to structural inflammation and disease. Chiropractic spinal manipulation has been shown to be one of the most effective ways in treating people with facet joint pain which causes lower back pain.

By: Dr. Larissa Woolston DC, MA

 

Posture and Pain

“Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them,” says Amy Cuddy in a recent New York Times article about the effect that using mobile devices has on our posture.  Cuddy is a professor at Harvard Business School and presenter of the popular TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”

Pain is a subjective and distressing feeling that people perceive when they encounter an uncomfortable experience. Pain can be both a psychological and/or a physiological experience. While psychogenic pain is typically experienced as a result of fear, nervousness, anxiety, doubt, grief or negativity, physiological pain is now days very frequently associated with repetitive motion injuries. A repetitive motion injury occurs when the body’s tissues are repeatedly exposed to loads beyond their functional capacity, which consequently causes many repetitive mini traumas to the tissues.

Considering that the body is a dynamic and adaptable organism, it is very well equipped to compensate for these micro injuries. The main reason that most people don’t view micro traumas as being a severely debilitating factor to their health is because we learn to work around the injury. That is both a blessing and a curse because when an injury occurs in one area, the body will stabilize that body part and will recruit surrounding tissues to perform the intended movement or action. However, repeated musculoskeletal compensation leads to postural distortions; and poor posture, over time, leads to chronic pain patterns.

When in pain, people tend to become more sedentary in an attempt to avoid activities that trigger pain and discomfort, and yet decreased level of physical activity leads to stiff joints and weak muscles which further exacerbates the problem. Chronic pain has become such an epidemic that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that “pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.”

So what can be done? The first thing needed to create lasting change and success is awareness.  Allow yourself the space to see things as they are, without forming judgments, excuses or rationalizations. Only by acknowledging what is, do you put yourself in a position to do something about it. So perhaps next time you are brushing your teeth at the bathroom sink, you take a look at your posture; or the next time you are sitting at your computer, you notice any tensions in your neck, hands, and low back.  Or maybe when you are standing in the checkout line at the grocery store you move side to side a few times and unattachedly notice if one side feels stronger than the other, and if your feet are nice and relaxed or tight and tense. Whether you are looking to get out of pain or are simply interested in ensuring that you are functioning at a healthy level, raising the level of awareness as to what your body is doing helps you to then take the next step in creating the needed change.  

A recent study published in Journal of Health Psychology concluded that sitting with an upright posture can function as a coping mechanism against stress. From a physiologic standpoint, properly aligned posture significantly decreases the stress on supportive ligaments, tendons and muscles.  And so although you may not be able to make something better immediately, you can take the first steps in honoring your body and wellbeing by acknowledging how well your body moves in space, and then simply noticing what areas need your further attention.   

 

By Dr. Larissa Woolston DC, MA