The Impact of Smartphones on Our Bodies: How Yoga Can Help with Text Neck
Updated: Apr 6
As our smartphones get smarter, faster and more connected, our love affair with them deepens. They keep us connected, informed and productive in the ways that matter to us most. A recent study by the GSMA shows 5.4 billion unique mobile subscribers in 2022 and estimates that this will grow to almost 6.3 billion by 2030. According to a survey conducted by Ofcom in 2021, the average UK adult spent around 3 hours and 37 minutes per day on their smartphone and this increases to around 4.5 hours for people aged 18-24.
Although smartphones have adapted themselves to serve us well, how well have we adapted ourselves for them? We know there is an important ongoing global discussion about the impact of smartphones on society in general and on young people in particular. As a Yoga Teacher I am interested in the impact smartphones have on our bodies, in particular our posture, spine and neck.
'Text neck' refers to a condition characterised by pain, stiffness, or soreness in the neck caused by prolonged and repetitive bending of the neck while looking down at a mobile phone, tablet, or other electronic devices. The term "text neck" has been coined due to the prevalence of this condition in individuals who spend a significant amount of time using their mobile devices to text, browse the internet, or engage in other activities that require them to look down for prolonged periods. Over time, the repeated strain on the neck muscles and ligaments from this posture can lead to chronic pain and other musculoskeletal problems.
The human head is heavy and weighs about 12 pounds. When we use our smartphone we typically look down and gravity works to make our head even heavier the further down we look. This puts us in the red zone on the pic below.
Our muscles adopt a ‘set length’ based on our regular activity. When we look at our smartphone our muscles will adjust and adapt to the ‘set length’ of looking down, the same applies to our regular activities such as sitting at a desk, cycling, running, sitting on the sofa watching TV etc. Over time this ‘set length’ will pull on the bones in our spine and can give us neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain, tight hip flexors, tight hamstrings and calves, a tech neck stoop etc. When we sleep the same thing happens, our muscles adapt to the ‘set length’ of sleeping which is why our body can feel ‘stiff’ in the morning after waking.
The spine is the most flexible joint in the body and responds to tight muscles that pull on it. The spine is regarded as the pillar of life and in addition to providing support for the whole body, it plays a critical role in protecting the central nervous system. The central nervous system is responsible for controlling and coordinating all the functions of the body, including movement, sensation, and organ function. Any disruption in the communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body can lead to a range of health problems, including chronic pain, weakness, numbness, and even paralysis. Therefore, it's crucial to take care of your spine to maintain the health and proper functioning of your central nervous system.
We are not going to stop using our smartphones for many hours per day or stop carrying out other regular activities that create a less healthy ‘set length’ for our muscles. Therefore it is well worth making time to build in some counterbalanced postures into our day and let our muscles go back to a healthy ‘set length’. Adopting a regular Sun Salutation practice is an ideal way to do this.
Sun Salutations, also known as Surya Namaskar, are a series of 12 yoga poses that are performed in sequence. With each pose successively deepening with every repetition.
When we practice Sun Salutations heat is generated in the body raising the core temperature and causing the blood vessels on the body surface to dilate. This combines with sweating to dissipate the heat and regulate the core temperature of the body. Sweating releases toxins from the body that may be trapped in joints by muscles being at unhealthy ‘set lengths’ for extended periods of time. The increased heat raises blood flow to the muscles and makes the tendons and ligaments more pliable. Synovial fluid circulates in the joints, carrying nutrients to the cartilage and removing debris and waste from the joints. The Sun Salutations alternatively contract and relax groups of muscles throughout the whole body. This creates a 'pumping' action in the veins and improves return of blood to the heart. The chambers of the heart fill to their optimum level and cardiac output increases. More blood circulates to the vital organs, including the liver and kidneys. Sweating increases to help detoxify the blood. A regular Sun Salutation practice, if possible every morning after waking, will lengthen the muscles and improve the range of motion throughout the whole body, this sends a signal to the brain to create a new ‘set length’ for our muscles that will keep our spine and central nervous system healthy.
If you are new to Yoga you can start with a half sun salutation made up of 6 postures.
When you are ready you can go for the Sun Salutation with 12 postures.
Wishing you good health and a happy body.