How Your Phone Changes You


Charlie Desnoyers, Staff Writer

“It’s because of that phone” is a response far too many young people have been prompted with when asking about our well-being. This response may prompt anger because of the lack of effort or sarcasm when being told this five letter phrase, however it holds some truth. Studies have shown that longer cell phone use can raise your internal body temperature and cause headaches. Aside from the eyesight and behavioral issues phone usage brings to people, our phones change us in other physical ways than expected – even at times when we aren’t using them. 

Imagine this: class just started and you just put away your phone in your back pocket for the entire 55 minute class period, thinking nothing of it. In reality, you could be pinching your nerves and causing back pain for a long time if left untreated. When you sit on your phone, you are sitting imbalanced given the difference in height between your left and right side as you sit. Say your phone is in your right pocket: your pelvis is raised abnormally on the right side which in turn causes your lower (lumbar) spine to be raised to you right, and your middle (thoracic) vertebrae shift abnormally to the left to counteract these differences. These obtuse shiftings puts pressure on your intervertebral discs (think of these as cushioning to keep your vertebrae and spinal cord safe), muscle, and nerves. In turn, long exposures to pressure can wear down these things listed which can turn into problems such as lower back pain and sciatica. With those unfamiliar, sciatica is caused from pressure on the sciatic nerve which runs from your spine throughout your entire leg, and is marked by shooting pain from your lower back to calves, even as extreme as leg weakness and bladder changes. If this is not enough to wart someone away from sitting on their phone, poor posture and possible neurosurgery is the next worst thing that comes from this indirect use of one’s cell phone. 

Not only does sitting on your phone cause damage to your spine and nerves, looking down at your phone routinely can cause strain and damage to your spine. When most people look at their phone, their phone is below their eyes causing their neck to move down to look at their phone. While it may seem noticeable when you bend your neck down to look at your phone, the weight you are applying to your cervical spine can be six times greater than that of your own head. Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD and Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, created a model to simulate the weight of a head tilted down towards a phone. Hansraj found that a 45 degree tilt downwards from the neck equates to 49 pounds of stress on your spine. As the degree increases, this force on your neck increases as well. Called “tech neck”, the downward angle you look at causes unnecessary strain on your cervical spine, which are the first seven vertebrae responsible for movement of your head and neck. With this continuous stress on your neck, it strains your upper cervical spine which leads to poor posture and injury that could possibly require spine surgery. While it may seem hard to prevent looking down at your phone once in a while, it is important to avoid this for longer periods of time. Try putting your phone at eye level and keeping it there – the damage and strain you are saving your spine from will be greater than a few minutes at an unusual phone angle. 

The subtle ways we interact with and keep our phones can leave a lasting impact on our health that we never expected. Even when we are not using them, phones can still make their mark on our spinal health if sat on improperly. These mindless and habitual ways we use our phones may seem unharmful but have been seen to do much more harm over long periods of use. If you’ve been subconsciously doing these two habits, do not worry. Changing your habits now is better than further along the road – you’d rather be sitting with your phone in your front pocket than sitting in the operating room.