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Checking your smartphone can be a real pain in the neck—and back

A modern affliction has osteopathic physicians prescribing the selfie stance to patients checking their devices: keep your head up and hold the phone straight out.

Tilting the head forward 60 degrees can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on the neck, according to Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, chair of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University California.

Tech neck, a disorder that changes the curvature of the spine, can cause severe muscle strain and mobility loss. The painful condition results primarily from the use of cell phones, tablets, and other small screen technology, which users tend to hold below eye level. It’s a progressive issue, which may lead to disc degeneration and nerve complications, according to Dr. Pierce-Talsma, who’s seen a rise in the number of patients reporting neck stiffness, shoulder tightness or a general ache in the upper body.

“Improper posture adds tension and compression to structures that weren’t meant to bear that weight,” she explained. “These stresses and strains build up over time and wear down bones, joints and ligaments, even changing the way muscles fire.”

Posture, a reflection of how the musculoskeletal system is functioning as a whole, influences the biomechanical efficiency of the body. Good posture places the least amount of strain on our muscles, bones and ligaments as we move, walk, and lie down, says Dr. Pierce-Talsma. Poor posture leads to fatigue and pain.

Treatment for tech neck

An osteopathic physician and a registered yoga instructor, Dr. Pierce-Talsma looks at patients holistically to understand what postural, muscular and neurological issues may be contributing to their health concerns. Treatment for tech neck starts with simple lifestyle modifications.

“I often tell my patients to sit as tall as they can—military posture—and then relax a bit. Good posture shouldn’t be painful,” says Dr. Pierce-Talsma. “It takes some concentration and, if you’ve had poor posture for a while, strength building.”

Medications alleviate inflammation and reduce pain, but correcting posture addresses the root cause of the problem. Patients may be referred to yoga classes or physical therapy to address muscular issues and Dr. Pierce-Talsma sometimes recommends an ergonomic evaluation to assess if their workspace is properly configured.

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