Neck Pain and Smartphone Overuse

Does excessive smartphone use lead to disc degeneration in the neck?

Hot off the press, another study has suggested a link between neck complaints and excessive smartphone use (see link below). In this study excessive smartphone use was associated with increased disc degeneration (as seen on MRI). Several studies have now linked excessive smartphone use with neck complaints. Last year an Australian study grabbed headlines around the World when it speculated that an increased prevalence of occipital spurs (‘horns’) in young people might be linked to postures whilst using smartphones. These studies were ‘observational’, and whilst they have suggested a link with smartphone use, other factors may also contribute.

What does the broader research tell us?

A systematic review involving 2438 participants also found evidence linking neck flexion posture, frequency of phone calls, texting and gaming with an increase in musculoskeletal complaints in mobile phone users. The most prevalent complaint was neck pain which affected 17-68% of smartphone users.

What is the optimal neck posture while on my smartphone?

A recent study demonstrated that smartphone users with and without neck pain should try to keep their neck flexion angle between 0° and 15° when using their smartphone. This reduces neck muscle activity and the risk of developing neck disorders associated with smartphone use. 0-15 degrees of neck flexion is akin to having your head squarely over your shoulders or just slightly forward.

Take Home Message

Growing spines are likely to be permanently affected by frequent or habitually poor postures. Whilst poor posture has always been a problem in children and teenagers, the increased exposure to smartphones and tablets (especially in very young children) may be amplifying the deleterious effects on the spine in the longer term. Time limits, postural cues and exercises are recommended to help ameliorate these effects.


•Prevalence and risk factors associated with musculoskeletal complaints among users of mobile handheld devices: A systematic review:

•Association Between Excessive Smartphone Use and Cervical Disc Degeneration in Young Patients Suffering From Chronic Neck Pain:

•Effect of Neck Flexion Angles on Neck Muscle Activity Among Smartphone Users With and Without Neck Pain