Are smartphones a pain in the neck? According to new research carried out by a US doctor, they are far worse – “text neck” is becoming an epidemic that could lead to permanent damage.

The posture we adopt as we stare at our phones, according to the surgeon behind the paper, increases the stress on the neck and can cause excessive wear and tear that may eventually require an operation to correct it.

Dr Kenneth Hansraj says that although our heads weigh between 10lb and 12lb, as we angle them down to look at our phones, the effective weight on our necks increases – at a 15-degree angle it is about 27lb rising to 60lb at 60 degrees.

With smartphone users now spending an average of two to four hours a day with their heads dropped down, this results in “700 to 1,400 hours a year of excess stresses seen about the cervical spine”, according to the research.

Sammy Margo, from the UK’s Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says she thinks “text neck” is on the rise. “People carry out their lives by text, they get carried away and don’t realise they need a break.”

This can cause “head pain, neck pain, arm pain and numbness,” she points out, because “a normal standing position is facing forward and all the curves of your neck and spine are in correct alignment. But when you drop your chin on to your chest for a long period you are stretching the whole structure.”

“Eventually, in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, it could lead to serious consequences.”

She advises people to use voice recognition and make phone calls instead, and take regular breaks and alter their texting positions to avoid problems. The NHS website’s Live Well section lists helpful exercises – including gently lengthening your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin.

It is not the first time we have been warned about the dangers of texting. In 2011 it was blamed for an increase in pedestrian deaths in the US, with some towns considering the introduction of fines for people who text while walking. “Blackberry thumb” – repetitive strain injury caused by texting – has been joined by “iPad hand”, aches and pains caused by swiping and typing on a tablet. The list of ailments expands with every new piece of technology.

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