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Nurses are being encouraged to educate people about the link between neck pain and excessive use of smartphones.

Latest international research has revealed high ergonomic risks to smartphone users, particularly young people who are experiencing neck pain earlier than previous generations.

Researchers studied smartphone users aged between 18-25 years, who spent up to eight hours a day on their phones. Results showed unsuitable neck, trunk and leg postures which lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

‘Text neck’ places stress on the spine and alters the neck’s natural curve, increasing the likelihood of associated soft tissue discomfort.

University of South Australia physiotherapist and researcher Dr Rose Boucaut said the awkward postures adopted by smartphone users adversely affected the soft tissues.

“Smartphone users typically bend their neck slightly forward when reading and writing text messages. They also sometimes bend or twist their neck sideways and put their upper body and legs in awkward positions. These postures put uneven pressure on the soft tissues around the spine that can lead to discomfort.”

The Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) tool had assessed the ergonomic impacts of desktop computers and laptops, this was the first time the tool had been used to assess ergonomic risk levels of excessive smartphone use.

In a separate study by the same researchers, also published this month, of 779 Thai university students who used smartphones: 32% reported neck pain; 26% shoulder pain; 20% upper back pain; and 19% wrist and hand pain.

Musculoskeletal disorders were more common among students with higher smartphone use (more than five hours a day) and those who smoked and did little exercise.

Female smartphone users (71%) experienced far more musculoskeletal disorders than men (28%).

The study is the first to show an association between smoking, smartphone use and neck pain.

Dr Boucaut said the findings should be communicated to health professionals who treat people with neck and back pain, who may not always link their symptoms to smartphone use.

“It is also doubtful whether people experiencing back and neck pain (especially young people) are aware it could be as a result of excessive smartphone use.

“Health practitioners need to educate their patients about safe postures and curtailing time spent using smartphones to help prevent these issues.”

Some smartphone companies have started sending unsolicited messages to their customers notifying them of their average time spent on daily smartphone use.

This could help users connect neck discomfort with smartphone use and encourage them to reduce time spent texting, Dr Boucaut said.

The study was published in journal PLOS One.