Do smartphones make headaches worse?

New study finds that users who get regular migraines take more painkillers but experience less relief

(Image credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

People who are hit by regular headaches or migraines may suffer even more if they use smartphones, a new study suggests.

Researchers quizzed 400 people in India with a primary headache condition - that is, migraines, tension headaches and other types not caused by another illness - about their smartphone use, headache history and medication use.

They found that smartphone users were more likely to use more pain medication but got less relief compared with those who didn’t use smartphones. Only 84% of smartphone users said they felt moderate or complete relief after taking painkillers, compared with 94% of non-users.

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However, the report - published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice - stopped short of definitively stating that smartphones cause headaches.

“The associations found in the study do prompt the possibility that smartphone use may be a potential trigger for headache worsening, and there might be unexplored mechanisms which future studies may unravel,” said study author Dr. Deepti Vibha, a professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

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As CNN notes, there are several theories about why smartphones may make headaches worse.

One is that bending the neck to scroll through a phone causes strain on the body that can lead to headaches. This posture, dubbed “text neck”, has been found to result in strain on the spine that can feel like the equivalent of up to 30lb (13.6kg), according to a 2018 study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts.

Other theories include eye strain caused by excessive use of the phone; users holding their device too close to their face; or simply the stress caused by being connected at all times.

Neurologist Dr Heidi Moawad, of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, says that features such as hands-free settings, voice activation and audio functions “could potentially hold the key to helping smartphone users benefit from their phones without exacerbating their headaches”.

More than 45 million people use smartphones in the UK alone, “with each typically spending more than two hours looking at their screens every day”, says the Daily Mail.

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