Future Tense

Texting Is Bad For Your Spine. Duh.

The ol’ hunch-to-text.

Photo by Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

A new study published in the journal Surgical Technology International concludes that frequently hunching over a smartphone puts significant strain on your cervical spine (neck). Spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj used a computer-generated spine model to calculate that the force can be 60 pounds or possibly even more. It’s sort of like picking up an elementary school student with your neck.

Human heads weigh 10 to 12 pounds, and when a person bends over her phone, she increases the force pulling on the muscles and joints in her neck. In the paper, Hansraj explains, “The weight seen by the spine dramatically increases when flexing the head forward at varying degrees. … As the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.”

As the Atlantic points out, a Nielsen poll from earlier this year showed that Americans spend about an hour per day on their smartphones. And Refinery29 even traced back to the chiropractor who popularized the diagnosis “text neck” that people have been talking about for a few years. Still, Hansraj’s paper seems to be one of the first rigorous evaluations of text neck.

But Simon Tang, who studies the biomechanics of the skeleton and soft tissues in the Department of Orthopaedics at Washington University in St. Louis, says that the findings are solid but not exactly novel. “Particularly in occupational biomechanics this is certainly not a new thing,” he said. “Smartphones are now surrogates … for blue-collar work that requires assembly lines, and people who work in front of the computer for prolonged periods of time.”

Tang notes that most occupational health studies run for years or even decades, so smartphone use is certainly in the early stages of analysis. But he says that the basic question the paper is trying to answer is simple enough. “This is a physics problem that I could have my students work out,” he said. “The idea of bad posture altering your biomechanics and making you more susceptible to injury is an old idea.”