In so many ways, our smartphones make elements of our lives easier and more convenient, putting the world at our fingertips at a moment’s notice. But as we turn to our phones more often to connect, learn about the world and simply occupy downtime, Duvall physical therapist Mary Beth Ackerman warns that these technological tools have a downside.
“Prolonged smartphone and tablet use makes it easier for us to adopt bad posture, which can have long-term health consequences,” said Ackerman, co-owner of PhysioCare Physical Therapy in Woodinville and Duvall. “As we spend time looking down at our phones, we’re often bending our heads forward, slouching and rolling our shoulders forward, sometimes for long periods of time. When repeated and sustained, this can lead to pain in the neck and shoulders as well as injury to the spine, which over time can cause permanent damage.”
According to recent studies, the average person in the U.S. spends 2.8 hours each day bent in what some have begun to refer to as “text neck” or “iPosture,” the slouched stance many take while staring at the tiny to mid-sized screens of smartphones and tablets. Though the average head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, the effective stress put on our necks increases the more our heads tilt forward – from 27 pounds at a 15-degree tilt to 60 pounds at 60 degrees.
“That’s excess strain on the cervical spine over hundreds of hours a year,” said Ackerman. “This can cause head pain, neck pain, pain in the arms, and even numbness. Such strain, numbness and weakness can carry over into your everyday posture as you sit, stand, work and exercise. It can also lead to disc degeneration, herniation, osteoarthritis, and the rounding of the shoulders.”
Ackerman says that those experiencing such pain and discomfort over a period of time should be evaluated by a licensed physical therapist, like those on the PhysioCare Physical Therapy team. As specialists in strength and movement, a physical therapist can identify musculoskeletal weaknesses and work to help you achieve better balance and posture within your routine.
In this spirit – and since smartphones and tablets won’t be going away anytime soon – Ackerman offers the following advice for preventing pain and injury when making use of such technologies:
The eyes have it.
When looking at and using your smartphone, always hold it up to eye level. By preventing the need the tilt your head forward, you’re choosing not to put additional strain on the spine.
Keep the chin in.
When jutting your chin out toward your phone, which is common when using such devices, you’re also adding strain to the neck and shoulders. So keep your chin up…and in.
Stand a little help. If you use a larger tablet, laptop or a hybrid of the two, don’t hold it to eye level by hand. Use a stand to carry the weight for you.
To learn more about posture and to get an assessment of your own posture habits, contact your local physical therapist.