It wouldn’t be a stretch to say society is addicted to smartphones. You might be one of the many people constantly craning over a tiny screen to text, scroll through social media or take Snapchats—you’re not the only one, don’t worry.
A recent study of commuters in Chicago found the need for connectedness has actually caused the number of people using public transportation to rise. For example, once the city’s Metra trains installed Wi-Fi, the number of annual passenger trips spiked by 1.3 percent.
The researchers didn’t ask commuters outright if they started commuting by train because of the Wi-Fi, but they still concluded internet access made the trip more attractive to those who could have possibly driven otherwise.
Of course, not all smartphone usage is reserved for buses, trains, subways and cars stuck in commuter traffic. No matter where you are, you can sneak a look at your device and get lost in your messages and apps for a few minutes. The instinct to your device not only draws you away from everyday life, as we’ve discussed many times in this very series, but it can hurt your body.
Without knowing the symptoms, though, you can’t be sure your aches and pains should be attributed to an over-usage of your mobile device or computer. That’s why we’ve rounded up the following four symptoms to help you recognize when smartphone usage could be behind your discomfort.
A New York back surgeon did research to find out just how much it strains your head to bend your neck to look at devices like your phone, and the results were somewhat astounding: if you tilt your head to 60 degrees to look down at your phone, for example, the force on your neck—produced by the weight of your head combined with the gravitational pull of the angle—equals about 60 pounds of weight.
Can you imagine putting a 60-pound barbell on the back of your neck? Obviously, you wouldn’t. But regularly craning over your phone or computer will leave you feeling pain in your neck at the end of the day.
We’ve already gone over just how much stress phone usage puts on your head and neck. It should be no surprise, then, that this straining position can lead you to more side effects, including headaches and migraines.
There’s also the light emanating from the screen, which can cause headaches as well. In fact, up to 90 percent of computer users in one study reported side effects including this one. Ouch.
The curve your back makes to look down at a computer or phone—or the slump you fall into after sitting in an office chair all day—is going to affect your posture. If you find yourself suffering from poor posture, it could be because you’re falling into this pattern. You might feel the aches in your neck and back, too.
Finally, and perhaps the most strangely, you might lose a bit of feeling in your fingers by the end of the day. It has nothing to do with how much time you’re spending texting on your phone, though. The tightness and tension in your neck can be a direct cause of numbness in your fingers.
Because this is a more serious side effect, you might have to see a doctor to restore the feeling to your phalanges.
We touched on fixing your phone-related issues if you have numb fingers, but there are solutions to the other issues, too. For one, there are many other activities you can do to pass time on your commute that don’t require you to look down at your phone the entire time: listening to music, podcasts or learning a new language can all be done while simply listening, singing or repeating.
You might want to consider how you look at your devices. You might feel silly, but holding your phone up so that it’s directly in front of your face will help you avoid curving—and putting pressure on—your neck and back. To that end, take steps to make your desk more ergonomic so you’re not slumping into poor posture all day long.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid tech neck is to, well, take a break from your phone. Take a walk around the office, meet a friend for lunch, drive with the windows down and sing as loud as you can. But give your body a break—a bit of unplugged time—and you’ll feel a whole lot better, both physically and mentally.
Image: Joi Ito, CC-BY
Anum Yoon is Paste’s Unplugged columnist and a Philly-based blogger who founded Current On Currency.