Posted by: drcarolgrant | November 8, 2010

Neck pain and cell phones: Are you causing your pain?

I was shopping for my weekly groceries recently and as I was walking in the store there was a young mother in front of me talking on her cell phone. Now I don’t mind if people talk on there phone but as a chiropractor I noticed the way she was holding her phone…between her shoulder and her ear. I continued to walk around, shopping and saw other people doing the same thing, talking on the phone with the phone held between there shoulder and their ear. Part of me cringed thinking of the injury they are doing to their neck and part of me said, well, there’s a future patient.

I treat a lot of neck pain and a lot of it is chronic because of repetitive ways people do things especially using their cell phone. Of course this holds true for most musculoskeletal conditions and even medical conditions. Smoke long enough and you will irreparably damage your lungs. Drink enough… damage to your liver. But I digress.

Your neck is made up of 7 bones, called vertebrae. These bones are connected by small muscles, ligaments and tendons. They are separated by discs which act as a shock absorber and spacer so the nerves which exit between the vertebrae have enough room. The nerves go across the shoulder and down the arm to the hands and fingers and control their function. The nerves also branch and supply a system called the autonomic nervous system which controls everything from heart rate and breathing to digestion and bowl function. And as I have mentioned many times in this column, it is critical that the nerves not be compromised so the body can work as close to 100% as possible.

The neck is capable of six movements, flexion or forward bending, extension or looking up, turning right and left also called rotation and bending side to side, lateral flexion. There are normal ranges for each of these motions. For example a 20 year old male should be able to turn his head to 80 degrees right and left. If he can’t then over time degenerative changes may occur. As we age we lose range of motion to the tune of 10 degree’s per decade once we hit 40. Losing motion too early can occur from trauma, either from large injury or from repetitive injury…talking on the cell phone improperly.

By holding the phone in the way described above forces your neck to be held in lateral bending for a long time. This closes down the opening where the nerves exit the spine. If done for a long time or done frequently, the joint may get “stuck” in that position and a variety of symptoms can occur. You may notice soreness in the neck and shoulder, tingling in the arm possible down to the hand. You might even hear a creaky, grating noise when you move your head around. This indicates that proper motion is absent and more symptoms may be on there way. I try to encourage secretaries that talk on the phone a lot to get head sets or at the least the attachment to the phone handle which allows a more upright head position. That blue tooth technology for cell phones that although looks odd ( to me anyway) is excellent ergonomics for people who use there phone a lot.

If you are wondering what your neck range of motion is, feel free to contact my office. I would be happy to check out your head motion at no charge and no obligation. Posture is important.


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