smartphone overuse

Neck pain associated with smartphone overuse: cross-sectional report of a cohort study among office workers

Goal of the Study?

In this study, 1, the aim was to investigate the association between nuchal (neck) pain, psychological impairment and smartphone overuse (SO) in office workers.


Why are they doing this study?

The use of smartphones is prevalent, with most people spending multiple hours a day using them for work and personal life. The prolonged use of smartphones can lead to neck disorders due to users’ neck flexion posture as they look at the screen for prolonged periods of time. Most smartphone tasks require users to stare downwards and hold their arms out in front of them, making the head move forward and causing an excessive anterior curve in the lower cervical vertebrae and an excessive posterior curve in the upper thoracic vertebrae to maintain balance. This forward head posture (FHP) may increase stress on the cervical spine and neck muscles. Research has shown that incorrect posture of the neck and head is associated with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Therefore, the increased use of smartphones at work is an important aspect of the study.


What was done?

The authors conducted a cross-sectional report of a cohort study between May 2018 and July 2019, with 1602 office workers (575 males and 1027 females). To be included in the study, participants had to be at least 18 years of age and have more than 4 years of smartphone use. People were excluded if they had a history of cervical trauma or any congenital abnormalities in the spine. 

The researchers assessed a range of data including demographics, abnormal symptoms of pain in the neck, physical activity and psychological behaviour — using scales to measure smartphone addiction, depression, anxiety and stress, as well as physical activity.  Multiple regression was used to evaluate the relationships.


What did they find?

The overall prevalence rate for neck pain was 30.1%, with significantly more females and younger workers reporting neck pain than others in the sample. The researchers also found with higher physical activity, less neck pain was reported. Those with vigorous, moderate and light activity had different reported neck pain levels with 7%, 25.5% and 31.5%, respectively. 

The prevalence for SO was 20.3% and was more common in younger male workers. Office workers with SO showed a higher prevalence of neck pain (62.9%) than people without SO. Additionally, single office workers had 1.6 times more risk for SO compared to married workers. Overall, those with SO were approximately 6 times more likely to have neck pain.

The researchers also found a significant correlation between neck pain and depression, anxiety and stress, with 26.6% of the workers with severe depression, 31.3% severe anxiety and 36.6% severe stress. Moreover, those with severe depression had a 70% more chance of neck pain


Why do these findings matter?

With the increasing reliance on smartphone use in modern life, the relationship between SO, neck pain, and psychological suffering found in this study is important information. The authors argue that there is a need for research on preventing the negative outcomes of SO.