It’s extremely rare nowadays to see someone spending their day without using their smartphone. Can you guess the total hours we spend looking at our smartphone in a year?

According to a survey done by the American Occupational Therapy Association, in a year, the teen population spends up to 5,000 hours hunching over a smartphone while adults spend up to 1,400 hours.

It makes sense as all information is readily accessible by clicking on the smartphone.

If you want to find a taxi, just click on the Grab application, if you feel hungry, just click on Food Panda, if you want to keep in touch with your friends, use social media applications such as Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and many more. It’s so simple, right?

There are thousands of applications offered in the smartphone that make our life easy, thanks to Sir Martin Cooper who invented the first cell phone in 1973, which has now evolved into a smartphone.

Despite the advancement of smartphone technology that gives huge benefits, users silently suffer from health issues due to prolonged usage, poor posture and poor ergonomics awareness when using this device.

Numbness, stiffness, pain at your thumb, wrist, neck and back are several common symptoms. The consequences are usually related to the musculoskeletal system, for example joints, muscles, nerves, and ligaments. Some of the most common injuries related include:

  • Cervical Postural Syndrome (neck)
  • Thoracic Postural Syndrome (mid back)
  • Lumbar Postural Syndrome (lower back)
  • Cervical Disc Bulge (neck)
  • Thoracic Disc Bulge (midback)
  • Lumbar Disc Bulge (lower back)
  • Cervicogenic headache
  • Thumb tendonitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Wrist Tendonitis

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is one of the non-pharmacological solutions to reduce the symptoms of injuries. The word ergonomics is quite commonly used as a selling point to market a product.

Buyers are more attracted to the word ergonomics as they have the impression that it leads to a healthy lifestyle. The fact is, not all ergonomics implementation have to be purchased in terms of a product. It depends on the techniques you use to implement it.

Here are five simple ergonomics techniques that you can use when using a smartphone.

Find a suitable smartphone

When you want to buy a smartphone, make sure you can fit your hand around it. You should be able to touch your thumb and fore finger around your smartphone. Just because a phone has the biggest screen, it doesn’t mean it is suitable for you.

Correct way of typing on a smartphone

It is recommended to switch between using your thumbs and fingers to type as it will reduce thumb pain.

Whenever possible, try to use your fore fingers to type instead of your thumbs. This can be achieved by placing your smartphone down on a hard surface if you’re texting, or holding the phone in one hand and texting with the other. Try not to type using only one hand as it can lead to pain at your thumb and wrist.

If you are using your thumbs to type, try to use the pad of your thumb as opposed to the tip of the thumb as this can cause an awkward bent position for your thumb, which may lead to pain.

Make sure your wrists are straight while you’re texting and swiping. This is the best method to minimise strain at your wrist.

If your wrists are awkwardly bent, it forces your fingers to work harder than is necessary.

Correct posture while holding your smartphone

Do maintain a good posture while using your smartphone. You may have a tendency to slouch and it could lead to back pain. Keep your back and shoulder straight to reduce pain in your neck, shoulders and back.

Avoid looking down at your smartphone screen as this bends the neck and tends to round the shoulders. This can ultimately lead to neck, shoulder or upper back pain.

Avoid holding the phone in your lap or below your chest. Try to maintain the phone at your chest, chin or eye level to minimise the bend in your neck and to maintain optimal posture. If your phone is below eye level, try to look down with your eyes rather than your neck.

Don’t hold your smartphone too tightly as it will puts stress on your fingers, thumbs and wrist.

Modification of your smart phone

Set your smartphone to easy access buttons. Put your frequently used controls and apps within easy reach of your thumbs.

Try to maximise usage of voice command to access the smartphone button. For example, IOS users can try SIRI voice commands.

You might have long phone conversations and sometimes, during the call, you might need to do some other tasks. Cradling your smartphone between your ear and shoulder isn’t just uncomfortable but it may also lead to injuries. It will pinch your spinal discs and can cause nerve compression.

Therefore, it is worth investing in a Bluetooth ear phone. Try to make minimum interactions with your smartphone as it will reduce the number of hours you are exposed to pain.

Take a break and stretch

Take frequent breaks and rest if you feel pain. Respect pain. Take a minute to stretch. It’s recommended that you spend one to two minutes on stretching for every 30 minutes you spend on your smartphone.

Try applying the following stretching exercises.

Wrist Extensor/Flexor Stretch: Keep elbow straight. Grasp one hand and slowly bend wrist forward until stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds. Then face the palms up. Grasp fingers with other hand and slowly bend wrist backward until stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds.Wrist Extensor/Flexor Stretch: Keep elbow straight. Grasp one hand and slowly bend wrist forward until stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds. Then face the palms up. Grasp fingers with other hand and slowly bend wrist backward until stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds.

Finger Opposition: Starting with the index finger and proceeding towards the little finger, actively touch thumb to each fingertip. Move slowly at first, then more rapidly as motion and coordination improve.Finger Opposition: Starting with the index finger and proceeding towards the little finger, actively touch thumb to each fingertip. Move slowly at first, then more rapidly as motion and coordination improve.

Flexor Tendon Gliding: Straighten all fingers, then make a fist, bending all joints.

Flexor Tendon Gliding: Straighten all fingers, then make a fist, bending all joints.

Lateral Neck Flexion: Slowly tilt head towards one shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and switch sides.Lateral Neck Flexion: Slowly tilt head towards one shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and switch sides.

Ergonomics is more important in this era rather than when it was first introduced in the 19th century. Advancements in technology come with a price. The small smartphone can contribute to big effects to our health. As long as we know how to use it with correct ergonomics, we will be able to minimise injuries.

Even though there is no treatment for all these injuries, it will be beneficial if we take precautionary steps in advance before it becomes worse.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


This article is written by Erna Faryza Mohd Poot, a lecturer/examination coordinator at Perdana University’s School of Occupational Therapy. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.