It’s probably safe to say that not many of us, if any at all, have made a new year resolution to adopt the correct postures while using our smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops.
The use of technological devices has become an inevitable part of the 21st century lifestyle.
This growing phenomenon has raised many concerns, one of which is the poor posture we adopt while continuously using these devices, resulting in neck, shoulder and lower back health conditions.
The term “text neck” was coined by American chiropractor DL Fishman, who described the condition as “repeated stress injuries and pain in the neck resulting from excessive watching or texting on handheld devices over a sustained period of time”.
A recent study by physiotherapist Lin Jia Huang found that 88.6% of respondents had on-and-off neck and shoulder pains, and continuous neck and shoulder aches from the usage of smartphones.
The study also found that there was a positive correlation between the severity of neck and shoulder aches to the level of smartphone addiction.
More than half of the participants used smartphones for more than six hours daily, and around 81.6% used smartphones between 21 to 50 times a day.
Malaysian Physiotherapy Association president Yew Su Fen says that prolonged wrong posture of the neck while using these devices can lead to very damaging effects to the neck and upper back.
“Our mobile usage has transformed our neck posture and upper back drastically.
“People tend to crane forward between 45° to 60° more and have their shoulders hunched while using their phones.
“When done over a period of time, this posture stresses the cervical spine, leading to early wear and tear, and eventually causing pain,” she explains.
However, there are some adjustments we can make in order to counter this condition, says Yew.
“The best way to prevent neck aches is to hold our phones 14 to 16 inches (35.6 to 40.6cm) away from our eyes (which is the advisable reading distance).
“We should also have our devices at eye level with our head upright, chin tucked in, and our shoulders in a neutral and relaxed position.
“Larger fonts are also advisable when using mobile devices.”
Lower back pain
Apart from mobile devices, desktops and laptops play a significant role in our daily routine too.
Our interactions with these devices can strain the lower back when we are required to sit for long hours in one position.
Yew shares that about 70% to 80% of the global population will experience low back pain at some point in their life.
She adds that back pain has been ranked highest in terms of disability and sixth in terms of overall health burdens by the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study.
Inti International University Programme head for Physiotherapy Thirumalaya Balaraman says that a common reason adults experience lower back pain is because of how we sit in front of our computers.
“Many people have an inclination to lean forward to look at their screens when sitting at their desks.
“When done over a long period of time, it can impact an individual’s hip and lower back mobility,” he says.
To reduce long-term injury, he says: “While sitting, we need to ensure that there is sufficient back support that will enable us to sit upright comfortably and that there is a comfortable viewing distance from our chairs to our screens that will prevent us from leaning forward.
“We should also ensure that our feet are rested on an inclined foot rest to prevent excessive stress on our lower backs.”
Given that technology is here to stay, applying these minor adjustments to our daily lives could very well keep the doctor (and their bills) away.