Hunch much?

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Whenever I’m without my cell phone I feel a twinge of panic.

And when this happens I realize that a piece of technology has become an appendage – it feels  nearly as essential as my arms or legs. But an article published in the Surgical Technology International Journal  gave me pause about my unnatural attachment to a smart phone. The study equated looking down at your device with having an eight-year-old child sit on your head while you’re reading your friends’ witty Facebook status updates.

The article’s author says the weight of the human head, coupled with the head being tilted downward, can cause early wear and tear to your spine – and the average person spends between two and four hours each day in this poor posture.

Knowing I’m guilty of this, I asked David Blatt, MD, a brain and spine neurosurgeon with Banner Health Clinics in Loveland and Greeley, Colo., his thoughts. And while Dr. Blatt isn’t convinced long-term damage from looking down at your device is a sure bet, he said it’s definitely not healthy.

“At a minimum, being hunched forward with the head and neck down is not good posture and the muscles in the back of the neck and upper back have to work overtime to compensate,” he said. “This can cause muscular pain, tightness and spasms in the neck, shoulders and upper back. Muscular issues in the neck can cause secondary headaches.”

For ways to avoid negative impacts of all of that screen time Dr. Blatt offers the following tips:

  • Limit the time you look down at devices, especially at one time.
  • Take breaks.
  • Hold your phone or tablet higher to avoid the downward tilt of your head and neck.
“I recommend that all of my patients maintain regular walking or other aerobic exercise program in addition to a regular exercise program to strengthen the core and postural muscles,” Dr. Blatt said. “Yoga and Pilates, among other programs, can be very beneficial.”

No matter how well we take care of ourselves, the loss of muscle and deterioration of our posture is inevitable as we age – but this latest development doesn’t help us any.

“This puts more pressure on the structures in our spine which deteriorate as well,” Dr. Blatt said. “The spine gets gray hairs and wrinkles too. Better core strength and posture lessens the pressure on the spine and can help lessen any damage that has been done, lessen pain, and improve quality of life.”

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