How shorter smartphone and tablet sessions improve musculoskeletal pain symptoms
Technology has become ubiquitous in almost every aspect of our lives and working from home during COVID-19 has only increased the amount of time people spend on their smartphones and tablets.
According to recent Australian surveys, over 80% of us use a smartphone and this number is nearly 100% for the 18-34 age bracket. The average Aussie will spend at least 2 hours on their mobile, checking it over 200 times a day and adding up to almost 1000hrs of smartphone usage in a year.
However, the science is becoming increasingly clear that prolonged smartphone and tablet usage puts pressure on the neck and upper back, causing or exacerbating many musculoskeletal conditions.
What are the common symptoms of smartphone related musculoskeletal issues?
The average human head weighs about 5kg. If you are looking forward and standing with good posture, this is the weight your neck is supporting. But did you know that looking down at your smartphone can add an extra 20kg of load onto your neck!?
In a recent study of 207 Australian participants, 59.9% reported musculoskeletal symptoms during or after device use.
Common Symptoms of Tech Neck include
- Pain in the Neck
- Pain radiating down one side of your neck, shoulder blade or arm
- Numbness or Tingling in arm, hand or fingers
- Weakness in your neck, arm or hand
- Stiffness in your neck or difficulty lifting your head up after looking down for long periods of time
The other common parts of the body experiencing pain in this study were:
How long should I spend on my smartphone or tablet?
Most participants who reported musculoskeletal symptoms began to experience them either within the first 15 minutes of use (26.2%), or within a 15–30 minute time period (38.3%).
Symptoms tended to increase in frequency up to a threshold of device usage level and then plateau.
Going by this, we shouldn’t be spending any longer than 15 minutes at a time looking at our smartphones or tablets.
Tips for reducing text neck and other musculoskeletal problems from your smartphone
- Raise your phone up to your eye-level, rather than looking down
- Focus on and improve your posture. Your ear should be in line with your shoulder – not in front
- Give yourself a break and get off your phone!
- Keep your chin tucked in gently when using your smartphone
- Keep your shoulders relaxed while using your phone. Ensure that you gently pull your shoulders down and back towards your shoulder blades.
If you are experiencing signs of tech neck, your first course of action (after reducing your screen time) is to book a physiotherapy assessment at Lane Cove Physio to make an appointment at our local physio clinic.
Treatment will typically include a combination of postural advice, soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation and, in some cases, dry needling.
 Kietrys DM, Gerg MJ, Dropkin J, Gold JE. Mobile input device type, texting style and screen size influence upper extremity and trapezius muscle activity, and cervical posture while texting. Appl Ergon. 2015;50:98–104.
 Thorburn, E., Pope, R. & Wang, S. Musculoskeletal symptoms among adult smartphone and tablet device users: a retrospective study. Arch Physiother 11, 1 (2021).