As Josephine Kibalian’s real estate business increased, so did her neck and back pain.
She was spending a lot of time on her cell phone and tablet and many hours driving. “On the highway, I was leaning forward. When I filled out offers, my neck would be forward,” says real estate agent Kibalian, 29. “And the phone was the worst. I’d always be tilted to one side.”
To get relief and be able to keep working, she now does yoga for stretching, goes to a gym and sees a chiropractor for treatment. She does the exercises that the chiropractor gives her, and she’s more aware of her posture while using her electronic devices.
“I feel more flexible, looser,” she says. “I also know that as soon as I start feeling stiff, I exercise.”
Kibalian, like millions of other electronic gadget users, battles the 21st century ailment known as “text neck” or “iposture.” Chiropractors and physiotherapists report a rise in neck and upper back complaints from clients constantly contorting their bodies to use their phones, tablets, and laptops. If the poor posture isn’t corrected, they say, what starts as aches and pains may evolve over years into degenerative changes and increased arthritis.
Some simple improvements to how people use their devices, attention to better posture and routine exercises can alleviate a lot of the neck cricks and body aches. The Canadian Chiropractic Association recently launched a free posture exercise app that’s available at app stores and at straightenupcanada.ca.
“The problem with portable technology is, it’s portable,” explains physiotherapist Maureen Dwight, director of the Orthopedic Clinic in Toronto. “For decades we advocated for proper ergonomic set-ups, the right height desk, chair, monitor position. Then all of a sudden employees moved away from static desk set-ups, so ergonomics went out the window.”
People commonly walk with their heads bent down over their phones, but the neck is particularly vulnerable. “It’s a very badly designed piece of apparatus,” says Dwight. “We have scrawny neck muscles and as the head drops forward, there’s not a lot of strength to support it.” The best head and neck position is to be over their pillar of support, the spine.
She encourages clients to get accustomed to bringing the phone’s screen up to their eyes, rather than bending the head down. As for tablets, she advises using them on a table, not on your legs. Preferably, the tablet should be propped up, not flat, and it should have an external keyboard.
When speaking on the phone, never cradle it. “Use a headset or speaker phone, not your shoulder,” admonishes Dwight.
Toronto chiropractor Katherine Tibor advises patients to take frequent breaks and move around. “The body is not meant to stay in one position for a long time,” she warns. “Constantly using e-devices puts undue stress on joints that might initiate or accelerate the development of osteoarthritis.”
To prevent neck stiffness, she suggests performing some simple stretches:
Side bends, drop the ear to the shoulder and hold for 15 seconds
Chin bends, drop the chin to the chest for 15 seconds
For soreness high up in the neck, tuck the chin in toward the neck, like making a double chin, and hold for 15 seconds
To stretch the mid-back between the shoulder blades, grab your shoulders and give yourself a 15-second bear hug.
She also suggests doing the 12 Straighten Up Canada exercises at least once a day. “They’ll help stretch the spine and activate muscles to improve posture,” says the chiropractor.