Smartphone Addiction: How Using Your Phone for Over 3 Hours a Day May Cause Back Pain and Other Health Problems

Teenagers spending more time gazing at screens through their smartphones, tablets or even while playing computer games can lead to back pain and other spinal health issues, according to a study by Brazilian researchers, funded by FAPESP. The research was published in an article in the scientific journal Healthcare. The study identified several risk factors for spinal health, such as proximate eyes to the screen, sitting or lying on the stomach and looking at screens for more than three hours a day. 

Risk factors associated with spinal health 

The study focused on thoracic spine pain (TSP). The thoracic spine is located at the back of the chest (the thorax) mostly between the shoulder blades, extending from the bottom of the neck to the start of the lumbar spine. The data analysed came from surveys of 14- to 18-year-old male and female students in the first and second years of high school in Bauru, a medium-sized city in Sao Paulo state. TSP is common in different age groups of the general population worldwide, with prevalence ranging from 15 percent-35 percent in adults and 13 percent-35 percent in children and adolescents. Explosive growth in the use of electronic devices during the COVID-19 pandemic clearly made the problem worse.

The risk factors associated with TSP are physical, physiological, psychological and behavioural, according to several investigations. There is also strong evidence of the effects of physical activity, sedentary habits and mental disorders on spinal health. All these factors are considered critical by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its latest global review of evidence and guidelines.

What does the study mean for health education for school students, teachers, staff and parents?

“The study can be used to inform health education programs for school students, teachers, staff and parents,” said Alberto de Vitta, first author of the article. He has a PhD in education from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in public health at Sao Paulo State University (UNESP) in Botucatu.

“This is in line with some of the objectives of the National Curriculum Parameters [PCN, Brazilian government guidelines for secondary schools], according to which schools are responsible for health education, including identification of risks to individual and collective health and interventions to combat them, as well as promotion of self-care habits with regard to the body’s possibilities and limits,” said Vitta, who is currently teaching and researching at Eduvale College as a faculty member in its Department of Physical Therapy in Avare, Sao Paulo state, and the University of Sapucai Valley’s Graduate Program in Education, Knowledge and Society in Pouso Alegre, Minas Gerais state.

Information on risk factors is key

Information on risk factors for TSP in high school students is important because children and adolescents with back pain are more inactive, achieve less academically and have more psychosocial problems, according to the article. Fewer studies have been conducted on TSP than on lower back and neck pain. A systematic review of the literature on TSP found only two prospective studies regarding prognostic factors. 


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