Are Smartphones Giving Us Chicken Neck?

By Hannah Nakashima
·  5 min read

Chances are if you're reading this article, then you're on some sort of smartphone, computer, or tablet.

We all can relate to the power and prominence of these devices, as they have allowed for a world that has never been more connected. In a blink of an eye, you can send your best friend a picture of your cat dressed as a taco or use an app to tell you the best time to “run and pee” during a movie (I’m not kidding, there is really an app for that!). With the endless, helpful uses for our devices, it's easy to get sucked in, but it might be time to ask ourselves how much time we're spending on our mobile devices and how it could be affecting our physical health.

What’s the Big Deal?

The average person in the U.S. spends approximately 9 hours and 20 minutes a day utilizing electronic devices with screens.

So when we incessantly use such devices, how does this affect our body and health? As you continue to read this article, think about what your posture is like as you're looking at your screen. With correct posture, your head should be upright and shoulders back, but is your neck instead pushed forward? Or perhaps your shoulders are rounding towards the screen? Maybe you even have some pain in your neck or back. Studies show that prolonged smartphone and computer usage causes poor posture such as forward neck posture, slouched posture, or rounded shoulders. These postures can also be associated with pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.

The dreaded “chicken neck” associated with sustained forward neck posture, not only can make you look like your neck was awkwardly frozen forward halfway through the chicken dance, but can, more importantly, cause injury to the structure and ligaments of the cervical and lumbar spine. Our spinal cord is made of multiple curves meant to carry the weight of our head and to position the pelvis. When your neck is hyperextended forward, as it often is when we are on our devices, the weight of your head increases 10 pounds with every forward-extended inch.

When your neck is hyperextended forward, as it often is when we are on our devices, the weight of your head increases 10 pounds with every forward-extended inch.

So what does this mean? It means that this added force puts a strain on the muscles and joints around the vertebrae of your cervical and lumbar spine, which can eventually lead to loss of the proper spinal curve and compression of nerves that can potentially affect every organ and function of the body. Yikes! This can lead to an array of ailments such as headaches, migraines, chronic back pain, herniated intervertebral discs, or temporomandibular disorder.

Tips and Tricks To Improve Forward Neck Posture

With all that being said, most of us ladies can’t just give up using our smartphones and computers in hopes of avoiding these postural ailments, so what can we do? You’ve already started to master the first step of awareness by reading this article, but here are a few more evidence-based tips as well.

  1. Awareness. Whenever you use your computer or smartphone be aware of your body. It's easy to slouch forward and often becomes a habit, but being aware of your head position and posture, and correcting it when necessary to keep your head upright and shoulders back is the first step.

  2. Ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science that uses design and layout to create efficient and safe movement. It's especially important for people using repetitive movements that cause strain to their bodies, such as spending a lot of time looking at a computer or phone screen. Ergonomic solutions to help improve forward neck posture focus on improving your eye line. If your gaze is downward, your head and neck tend to follow, therefore when you use a computer or smartphone try to keep your gaze directly forward by elevating your computer monitor with stacked books, or a computer stand, and hold your phone up higher when using it. It's also helpful to increase the font size on your device if you often find yourself craning your neck to read small writing.

  3. Posture exercises. Exercises that improve the strength of your back and shoulder muscles can help improve forward neck posture. It's recommended to do 40 arm circles in each direction, and 25 arm closes daily to strengthen your postural muscle groups. Additionally, you can complete 10 to 20 reps of cat and dog exercises and 10-15 reps of lateral raises, rows, and/or pull-ups to strengthen your shoulder and back muscles daily.

  4. Pilates. If trekking through a group of exercises on your own isn’t your thing, participating in Pilates for about an hour a day, three days a week, has been shown to improve forward neck posture by improving spinal alignment and strengthening and retraining abdominal and deep neck muscles. Give it a try!

Closing Thoughts

In a world where we use our smartphones and computers in almost every aspect of our lives, our posture can easily suffer, leading to unfortunate consequences down the road. Awareness is critical, so, ladies, keep that head up and shoulders back the next time you reach for your phone or laptop. Your body will thank you later!

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