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Doctors warn of 'tech neck' - which could even require surgery

Staring at your phone screen for hours each day could cause so much neck damage it requires surgery. 

Called 'tech neck', experts warn the repeated strain on the bones, nerves and muscles can cause chronic pain. Muscle stiffness, joint inflammation, pinched nerves, arthritis, and even bone spurs or herniated discs can also occur.

Americans spend an average of more than five hours scrolling on their smartphone each day, according to the University of Texas Southwestern, plus even more time staring at laptop and computer screens.

The normal adult head weighs 10-12 pounds, and tipping it forward at a 45-degree angle to stare at a cellphone increases the amount of force on the neck by almost 50 pounds.

Phones and social media are an integral part of modern life and many jobs require extra screen time on computers, leading to significant effects on physical and mental health.

The more you tilt your head, the heavier the equivalent pressure placed on the neck

The more you tilt your head, the heavier the equivalent pressure placed on the neck© Provided by Daily Mail

Dr Kavita Trivedi, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Texas Southwestern, said: 'Humans are upright creatures, and our bodies aren’t designed to look down for long periods of time, which puts extra pressure on the cervical spine. 

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She explained that when consistently staring downwards, the extra 50 pound force can strain or injure the joints that connect the vertebrae.

The more you tilt down, the heavier the pressure, with a 60 degree bend equivalent to 60 pounds.

Surrounding muscles will tighten up in an attempt to protect nearby nerves, in turn causing inflammation, pain and knots in the neck.

It is increasingly affecting teens and young people, as more and more children get smartphones at earlier ages.

Nonsurgical treatment options include medication and physical therapy, trigger point and steroid injections as well as nerve blocks.

In the worst cases, patients may require surgery.

A 'neck lift' involves incisions around the ears and hairline to tighten underlying muscle and remove excess skin.

It is typically a safe procedure with no more risks than any other surgery.

Holding your phone at eye level will help to reduce the strain and can prevent future pain and neck issues. 

Dr Trivedi said: 'The good news is that most patients with tech neck don’t require surgery, and we have a wide range of therapies that can be very effective. There’s no need to live with pain if it can be treated.'

She added: 'Our phones and tablets are valuable tools, and there’s no need to give them up. The solution is to learn how to prevent tech neck while using these devices, and if pain develops, see a specialist who can help.'

A 2008 literature review found that those who sit in an office and computer users were most at risk of neck pain out of all workers.

And a report by found that humans spent a combined 4.1trillion hours - or 470million years - staring at their phone screens in 2022. 

Frequent use of smartphones has been linked to many potential harms aside from tech neck. 

A 2017 study by Turkish researchers found that university students who were addicted to their phones are more likely to suffer from loneliness or aggression. 

With loneliness comes mental health issues, and a 2021 study by Israeli researchers linked excessive smartphone use to anxiety, depression and related problems such as shyness and low self-esteem.

These participants were also more likely to report poor eating habits, further increasing their risk of suffering dietary conditions.

Reference: Story by Caitlin Tilley, Health Reporter For Dailymail.Com • 20 Feb

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