Pokémon Go can be a real pain in the neck!

You may have noticed strange new creatures roaming the streets of Denver this month. They can be spotted wandering our streets, our parks, and our malls, sometimes muttering at their phones, sometimes coordinating in groups. They are the Pokémon hunters, and they’re out in the world searching for virtual critters to snare for their collections.

Pokémon Go hit the world in July and quickly became a popular new pastime. Within the smartphone-based, augmented reality game, players capture, battle, and train these virtual creatures as if they were in the same real-world location as the players.

While the game is being praised for its health benefits – bringing folks outside who would otherwise sit at home playing – the game isn’t without some risk. The stress on your neck from staring down at your phone can be a long-term hazard. Honestly, this isn’t new, and certainly isn’t unique to Pokémon Go. The condition, known as “Text Neck,” is not only real, it also poses a real risk.

Text Neck is what happens when you stare down or stay hunched over an activity for too long.  This posture isn’t exactly new; people have done this for centuries with books, drawings, sewing, and many other activities. The condition is referred to as “Text Neck” because the saturation of mobile devices and our cultural addiction to them have multiplied the amount of time we spend hunched over.

Your head weighs, on average, around 10 pounds. With a healthy spine, you never have to think about that weight; your neck manages it with ease. As you bend your neck forward, the stress on your cervical spine increases exponentially. Some experts say that the stress on your cervical spine doubles with every inch your head tilts down.

That’s some alarming math, when you think about the posture you use while playing games on your phone. While you’re staring down at your smartphone trying to ‘catch ’em all,’ the stress on your cervical spine can increase to 50 pounds! Now take into account that we spend around three hours a day staring at our smartphones; it adds up to extreme stress on your neck.

Does it Hurt?

You’ve probably been staring at your device for years and haven’t noticed any problems. That’s where this condition’s insidious nature is important to understand. Its effects are subtle but cumulative. Stretching your body’s tissue for extended periods of time causes it to become sore and inflamed. Repeated stress on the vertebrae can also lead to herniated disks, pinched nerves, and eventually improper curvature of the spine. It has also been linked to headaches, other neurological issues, depression, and heart disease. These symptoms can creep up on you slowly, but chances of a negative impact on your life increase each time you hunch over your phone.

Maybe most alarming is how often we see this behavior in kids and young adults whose spines are still developing. Time will tell what the long-term effects of the increased spine pressure will be but it can possibly result in degeneration of the spine, bone spurs, and muscle deformity.

What Can I Do?

Luckily there are some steps you can take every day to minimize the impact that your mobile devices have on your spine health. Here are some suggestions­­­­­­:

Stretch!

Did one get away? Did you catch one? When you get a couple of minutes during your game, stop to stretch your neck and reset your brain. Tilt your head from left to right a few times. Look over your left shoulder, and then slowly turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Roll your shoulders and neck. Anything you can do to get those stiff muscles moving will pay off.

Hold your phone higher

Holding your device higher and bending your neck less can dramatically reduce the strain on your cervical spine. Holding your device in this way can also improve your situational awareness so you don’t run into anything while searching for your next catch.

Set it Down

We all have our obsessions. So while maybe easier said than done, it’s nonetheless important to put the phone down every once in a while. Maybe a Pokémon gets away. Maybe a text message gets missed. But the benefit to your health and wellness will be worth it in the long run.