You’re looking down at a device right now, aren’t you?
“Torque” is a word you’ve probably heard referring to cars or weight lifting, but thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, it’s starting to describe the forces in your neck when internetting. The Washington Post reports that research to be published later this month is the first to quantify just how much force is applied to the spine when we tilt our heads to text. It’s a lot.
Torque is description of the rotational force applied by some mass at some point. The greater the distance between the mass and the rotation point, the greater the torque. This is why it’s easier to rotate dirt out of the ground when you push at the very end of a shovel as opposed to its base. So, if the average human head weighs a dozen pounds or so, the further it tilts down, the further it is away from the rotation point (the spine at your shoulders) and the more rotational force — torque — is applied.
The research to be published by Dr. Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine is the first to calculate that the forces on your spine can be huge, as much as 60 pounds, depending on your texting angle. And if smartphone users spend an average of two to four hours craned over their devices, as the research notes, that’s 700 to 1400 hours a year. High schoolers in particular might spend an additional 5,000 hours in this position, Hansraj told the Post.
1400 hours with up to 60 pounds pulling on your spine is going to lead to noticeable wear and tear on the spine, and everyone is doing it. Hansraj calls it an “epidemic” or at least very common, with teenagers currently subjecting themselves to the most texting torque.
What is the actual risk to health of “text neck”? At the very least soreness, at the very most changing the natural curvature of the spine and herniating disks. But this “epidemic” is easy enough to curtail. Be aware of where your head is in space. Bring your phone up to your face to read (I know it looks dumb, but so does a curved spine), and make sure to take breaks during the hours you are in the inter-aether.
In other words, that tweet you’ve been crafting for 10 minutes is like hanging an adult bulldog off your spine. Oh, and sit up straight!