If you’re hope­lessly de­voted to your de­vices, here’s a heads-up: tech ad­dic­tion can be the last straw for your spine.

VOGUE Australia - - Content - By Remy Rip­pon. Il­lus­trated by Frédéric For­est.

Tech ad­dic­tion can be the last straw for your spine.


It’s a crisp yet sparkly day in Paris as I set­tle into one of those neigh­bourly hole-in-the-wall cafes that make you feel smugly like a lo­cal. With that spe­cific fish-out-of-water propen­sity of a tourist, I see the glar­ingly ob­vi­ous: of the 20-odd pa­trons, more than three quar­ters are con­sumed by the tech­nol­ogy at their fin­ger­tips. There’s the home-of­fice sit­u­a­tion in the back left-hand cor­ner; at least three French cou­ples scrolling through their morn­ing news feeds; an­other wo­man up­load­ing her break­fast spread to In­sta­gram (the cof­fee not the only thing given a thor­ough fil­ter­ing); and a cou­ple of busi­ness types zoom­ing in on an of­fi­cial-look­ing iPad pre­sen­ta­tion. And I’m not pass­ing judge­ment: had there been Wi-Fi, I would have hap­pily joined them.

When it comes to tech­nol­ogy, we’ve sailed right past re­li­a­bil­ity to down­right de­pen­dency: how else does one nav­i­gate a for­eign city? Or track their men­strual cy­cle against the moon? Or lo­cate a caf­tan a friend wore on hol­i­day in Croa­tia? Tellingly, a re­cent study by the UK’s Not­ting­ham Trent Univer­sity found the av­er­age user checks their phone 85 times per day, which was dou­ble the fre­quency peo­ple re­alised. But per­haps more con­cern­ing is not how of­ten we’re reach­ing for our phones (that caf­tan is a sum­mer sta­ple, after all), but how we’re do­ing it.

Dr Ken­neth Han­sraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Medicine, coined the phrase “text neck” or “tech neck” after see­ing a spike in pa­tients pre­sent­ing per­sis­tent neck and back pain. It was only after a rou­tine oper­a­tion for a her­ni­ated disc – a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward pro­ce­dure – that Dr Han­sraj no­ticed there were cer­tain be­hav­iours that not only in­ter­rupted a swift re­cov­ery, but also con­trib­uted to the ini­tial prob­lem. “We found out that [the pa­tient] was play­ing An­gry Birds with his head down for about four hours a day,” he says, adding the spe­cific an­gle of the neck one nat­u­rally as­sumes to look at their phone – of­ten­times for hours per day – is ush­er­ing in a host of neck and back prob­lems as well as in­form­ing lousy pos­ture.

Perched cor­rectly, the head ex­erts around 4.5 kilo­grams of force on your neck. Tilted for­ward it ex­erts a hefty 27 or so kilo­grams. There are those who carry it well – think Ri­hanna’s ex­quis­ite tat­tooed swan neck, or Natalia Vo­di­anova’s long­line physique – and en­tire films, such as The Hunch­back of Notre Dame or The Hob­bit, ded­i­cated to those who don’t. Ac­cord­ing to body lan­guage ex­pert David Alssema, fail­ure to main­tain a sol­dier-like stance speaks vol­umes pro­fes­sion­ally. “Poor pos­ture in the work­place can demon­strate a lack of en­ergy, lack of con­cern or poor work per­for­mance. It can com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers dis­in­ter­est or un­will­ing­ness to con­verse,” he says. “The chin held low in­di­cates sub­mis­sive­ness while the head held straight in­di­cates as­sertive­ness.” It seems there’s a rea­son Ri­hanna al­ways looks so badass.

Dr Han­sraj says it’s not only the ob­vi­ous phys­i­cal in­di­ca­tors of neck and back prob­lems – hunched shoul­ders and a per­ma­nent slouch – that are con­cern­ing. In­ter­nally, lig­a­ments are the first to feel the pinch of the tech-ded­i­cated by be­com­ing in­flamed, fol­lowed by stressed mus­cles and fi­nally per­ma­nent dam­age to the spinal el­e­ments, namely, disc spa­ces, ver­te­bral bones, the spinal cord and nerve roots. Sim­i­larly, con­stant cur­va­ture of the spine can lead to a crepey dé­col­letage and sag­ging jowls, thanks to col­la­gen break­down and the skin’s nat­u­rally pa­per-thin tex­ture on the neck and ch­est.

And it’s not so much a ques­tion of if but when you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence some de­gree of dis­com­fort. Ac­cord­ing to the Global Bur­den of Dis­ease Study 2010 (spon­sored, iron­i­cally, by techno­preneur Bill Gates) lower back pain is the lead­ing cause of dis­abil­ity glob­ally, with neck pain com­ing in fourth. So how can we en­sure some­thing so me­chan­i­cal and ha­bit­ual as look­ing down at our smart­phones or lap­tops isn’t a prob­lem fur­ther down the track? While the dig­i­tally fa­tigued will tell you the an­swer is as sim­ple as put­ting your phone down, there are ways to coun­ter­act the is­sue with­out re­sort­ing to such dras­tic – some may say ar­chaic – mea­sures. “While it is nearly im­pos­si­ble to avoid the tech­nol­ogy that causes these is­sues, in­di­vid­u­als should make an ef­fort to look at their phones with a neu­tral spine and to avoid spend­ing hours each day hunched over,” says Dr Han­sraj, adding that the head should be kept in a neu­tral po­si­tion with the arms raised slightly higher. “Re­mem­ber, good pos­ture is the most ef­fi­cient and least stress­ful po­si­tion.”

Like­wise, tak­ing time out to re­align can prove ben­e­fi­cial. The Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 2 houses a Breathe app, which re­minds wear­ers to prac­tise mind­ful­ness by guid­ing them through a se­ries of deep breaths at vary­ing intervals through­out the day. Plus, it pings you a mes­sage to stand up and move when it senses you’ve been sta­tion­ary (likely glued to a com­puter screen) for too long. And if a more phys­i­cal in­di­ca­tor is needed, crowd-funded gad­get EyeForcer is a pair of glasses worn by a tech user that sends a mes­sage to the de­vice they’re us­ing when­ever the wearer be­gins to curve their spine. It’s aimed mainly at chil­dren who spend hours a day screen-bound (many schools now use iPads for learn­ing).

More­over, ex­er­cises like pilates and yoga, which lengthen and stretch the back and neck mus­cles, can coun­ter­act a day spent curved over and re­align the mus­cles. “Ex­er­cises help, too,” says Dr Han­sraj. “Start with range of mo­tion of the cer­vi­cal spine. Flex­ion, ex­ten­sion, side bends, and tilts of the neck. Then progress to iso­met­ric strength­en­ing by do­ing the same ac­tiv­i­ties and ap­ply­ing stop­ping pres­sures with the hand.”

For Dr Han­sraj, the sim­plest prac­tices are the most ben­e­fi­cial. “My mes­sage is sim­ple. When tex­ting and us­ing the phone or a smart de­vice, keep your head up! Look down with your eyes and raise the de­vice up.” To para­phrase Ice Cube: you can do it, just don’t put your back into it.

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