What Is "Text Neck"? You're Probably At Risk If You Look Down At Your Phone A Lot

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You've probably been told once or twice (likely by your mom at the dinner table) to stop constantly looking at your phone. Using your phone is almost unavoidable, though, since smartphones are such multifunctional devices. Unfortunately, it turns out that the convenience of being able to reply to emails, send text messages, and take calls all right there on your smartphone might be taking a toll on your body. So, what is "text neck"? This latest news has a slightly silly name, but its effects can be all too serious if you're often looking down at your phone.

"Text neck" is a term that refers to the bent-neck position assumed when people look at their phones, and it is being warned against by spinal surgeons who have noticed an increase in the number of patients seen with neck and upper-back pain (likely due to prolonged smartphone use), according the Reuters Health. Usually, when you respond to a message or scroll through Snap Stories, you pull out your phone and look down at it to do your business. It's not uncommon (albeit slightly jarring) to see a group of people out together with everyone's heads bent down staring at their respective phones.

Beyond contributing to less-than-stellar table manners, constantly assuming a "text neck" position can also be very detrimental to your physical health.

The trouble arises thanks to the angle created when you bend your neck down to look at your phone — a position which Dr. Jason Cuellar, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, reports is most common when people are texting as compared to simply browsing or watching videos online. You might not think it is that big of a deal, so it's important to look at the numbers to better understand the impact on your spinal health.

When your head is in a neutral position facing forward, it weighs between 10 to 12 pounds, but that is rarely the position you assume to look at your phone. The stress on your spine increases as the degree of flex (how far down your head is bent) increases. For example, a 15-degree flex translates to the weight of your head feeling more like 27 pounds in terms of the stress on your spine. That pressure can go all the way up to 60 pounds when you're at a 60-degree flex (yikes!). I know, this sounds like the least-fun geometry class ever, but it's definitely worth it to put your health first.

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While the numbers themselves are quite shocking, what the spinal surgeons have discovered in X-rays of smartphone-users complaining of back pain is just as eye opening. Dr. Todd Lanman, a spinal neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, reported to Reuters Health that the neck typically curves backwards in an X-ray, but the curve of the neck is seemingly being reversed as people continue looking down at their phones for multiple hours a day.

OK, I'm a seriously becoming concerned that my love of sending GIFs is straight-up ruining my body. If you're similarly freaked out, take heed of the advice the surgeons put forward as guidelines for healthier phone habits.

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Lanman and Cuellar both suggest that simple lifestyle changes could be extremely helpful in terms of preserving your neck and back health. Their recommendations include: holding your phone closer to eye-level while texting and using two hands and both of your thumbs while you tinker on the phone in order to create a more symmetrical position of comfort for the spine. Lanman also suggests practicing good posture while sitting by "aligning the neck and spine by checking that the ears are over the shoulders and the shoulders are over the hips."

Gwanseob Shin, of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology Ergonomics Lab in South Korea, offers up the advice of taking frequent breaks and engaging in exercises that strengthen your neck and back. Shin also warns that bringing your phone up to eye-level poses the risk of shoulder problems, so it's probably best to take heed of the advice to take frequent breaks while using your phone and other electronic devices.

Medical findings that are tied to such a ubiquitous activity like texting can be hard to digest, but you probably already had an inkling that being on your phone all hours of the day isn't the best thing for your health. So, in an effort to try to avoid your "text neck" sending you to a spinal surgeon one day, go ahead and set your phone down at dinner tonight and check your messages in the morning — your back will thank you.

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