Too much use of devices and constantly looking down can lead to neck pain. We explain why this happens and how you can avoid it.

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Mobile phone use can cause body pain

In 2017, the number of smartphone users in Australia was around 18.6 million. This number was forecasted to reach 21.5 million by 2025 which means about 80 percent of Australians will have a phone in their hand. Everywhere you look people are looking down at their mobile phone; at the bus stop, on the train, at a cafe or even walking on the street.

Can using a mobile phone cause neck pain?

Let’s just look at the most basic facts, your head is the heaviest part of the body and the muscles and ligaments weren’t designed to hold it for long periods of time in a position where you are looking down. So using a mobile phone for long periods of time or repeated use during the day with your head looking down can cause neck pain. This is a form of repetitive strain injury that we are seeing in a growing number of clients that we deal with each week. Without realising it our clients think that maybe it is because they are sitting on the sofa for too long or have a poor chair at their work desk (and these are also contributing factors) but everyone forgets the thing they are doing with the device in their hand nearly every hour of the day.

How does Switch Physio determine what is causing neck pain?

We have some very open ended questions we ask any client that visits one of our physiotherapy clinics in Penshurst, Maroubra or Concord if they come to see us about neck pain

  • How long do you use your mobile phone each day
  • How long do you look down for
  • When is your pain worse
  • How do you usually sit when looking at your phone or device
  • Do you use blue tooth phone system
  • What type of chair / desk do you sit at during the day

How can mobile phone use cause neck or shoulder pain?

As we explained earlier when you look down to use your phone you are asking your body to hold your head in a position that it wasn’t really designed for. This head, neck and shoulder placement is actually creating an incorrect posture which then places strain on the neck and shoulders as you look down. When this is combined for sitting for long periods you have a recipe that leads to back, neck and shoulder pain which over time can lead to longer term complications.

A warm shower, tiger balm or a heat pack might give you some short term pain relief, but it means you are ignoring the underlying problem that is being caused.

How can you reduce neck pain from mobile phone use?

  • Stop looking down at your phone; sounds too simple right, but that is the honest answer. Either stop looking down at your phone or hold it up in front of you. Bring the device up to eye level. This will minimise the bend in your neck and maintain optimal spine posture. If your device is below eye level, look down with your eyes rather than your neck.
 
  • Use wireless earphones or blue tooth devices to avoid the need to look down or hold your phone between your ear and shoulder to use it.
 
  • Place your smartphone on a stand or base so that it is raised at eye level
 
  • Use an Apple eco system of mobile phone, laptop, computer or tablet where phone calls or messages can be sent and received by either device.
 
  • Check your posture regularly by making an effort to maintain the curve in your low back when sitting and using your device. If you need to use your device for a long period of time, try to find a supportive chair and a surface to rest your arms on. Avoid using your device to one side of the body with your neck rotated or cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder.
 
  • Take breaks or frequent micro-breaks to move/stretch your neck and back. Limit your device use to 20-minute sessions. Consider making a phone call rather than spending a long time texting.
 
  • Get an Ergonomic Assessment to look at your lifestyle when sitting, walking, working etc
 
  • Do stretching exercises regularly to relieve your muscles which can help reduce the pain
 
  • Use a heat pack

Can a Switch physio help reduce neck pain from using a mobile phone?

Switch physiotherapy has clinics in Sydney that can help you reduce neck or shoulder pain not only from mobile phone use but helping you look at other contributing factors. Our physio team are very experienced and take an evidence based approach to physical therapy treatment for neck pain.

This means we don’t look at a single cause, we explore the other things going on in your life that could also be contributing to the neck pain to then help create a personalised treatment plan for your situation.

Apart from using your mobile phone too much we might discover that;

  • your work office chair isn’t suitable
  • your desk too low or your monitor isn’t placed at the right height
  • the angle and height of the seat in your car isn’t ideal

Some physiotherapists might ignore all these other areas and treat the initial cause to give you short term relief, but we like to work on medium to long term solutions to get you moving the way you are meant to. So some of the things we would do to help assess and reduce neck pain would be;

Ergonomic assessment; An ergonomic assessment involves a detailed assessment of an office work station. The aim of the assessment is to be able to decide the ideal size, shape and height set up for a computer chair and desk. This will differ for all individuals. So for example, if a husband and wife both work from home then they will need different set ups based on different height, weight and body types. A successful ergonomic assessment is important to prevent injuries from occurring and enhancing work productivity.

 

Advice on exercises and stretches; once we have reached a deep understanding of your situation and all the contributing factors to your neck pain we can help craft a range of exercises and stretches that will help manage the pain but also improve movement.

 

Hands on therapy; our experienced physio team can provide hands on therapy treatment to help reduce the amount of neck pain you are experiencing. This would be done together with a treatment plan

Other common questions we get asked about neck pain

You won’t be able to freely turn your head from left to right, you will feel stiffness in your shoulders and the base of your neck. You may feel short, sharp pain when you move in certain positions or experience regular headaches.
The majority of people look down at their smartphones for long periods of time and at very regular intervals. This repetitive strain on your neck muscles will cause stiffness and pain over time and potentially lead to longer term injuries.
Stop looking at your mobile phone so often is the simplest answer. Try holding your phone up high so you don’t have to look down or use apps on your laptop or desktop computer where you can sit at a desk to answer them.
It can cause pain depending on the length of time per day and how many times you keep looking down at your phone.
Ideally, we should sleep with our neck in a neutral position as best as possible. This means that the head is in a nice midline position and not rotated/twisted/tilted whilst you sleep. This keeps the muscles, ligaments and other structures in the neck is a nice comfortable, neutral position. Either sleeping on your back or your side is preferred. Sleeping face down is not recommended. If laying on your side, try to keep your knees together and avoid rotating through your upper body.
In most cases, we would not recommend sleeping without a pillow as it is very difficult to keep the neck is a neutral/midline position without a pillow, especially for larger body types. Therefore, we recommend you use a suitable pillow for yourself that is “medium firmness”, less than 2 years old and suited to your body type and size. This may mean that you need a different size and type of pillow to your partner as everyone is different.
It is important to consider that fast neck pain relief may only be temporary. Hands on physical therapy by a physio can provide fast pain relief but if you continue your past behaviour it will just return again. We recommend medium to long term solutions which involve changing the way you use your mobile phone to get longer term neck pain relief.
There is no single way to treat neck and shoulder pain because every person’s individual situation will be different. That is why Switch physiotherapy uses an evidence based approach to pain treatment so that the treatments are done to assist your specific situation and medical history. Our approach is to achieve medium to long term relief from pain with a mix of hands on therapy & education on the exercises or lifestyle changes you need to make.
JAMES BECERRA

JAMES BECERRA

An experienced physiotherapist located in Sydney and the General Manager of the Switch Health Group in Sydney.