By Kelsey K Harm PT, DPT, Lexington, KY Center
In this technological age, we have infinite amounts of information at our finger tips and can speak face-to-face with a loved one on the other side of the world.
These advancements can make life more efficient, but they also can increase the risk of injury as the result of poor posture and repetition.
The slouched-over posture associated with using a smart phone or computer places abnormal forces through your spine and soft tissues. Using this posture only a few times per day isn’t much of an issue; our bodies were made to move in this direction, after all.
It is a problem, however, with the increased repetition that is a side effect of the tech-centered world. On average, 79 percent of adults ages 18 to 44 report having their phone on hand for all but two hours per day. 1 We depend on our devices for both home and work, and this repetition may result in pain.
Common Tech Injuries
- Text neck1,2: It is necessary for the neck to move in all directions; however, if you text often, use your phone for a prolonged time, or have a desk setup that is too low, you may be at risk for neck pain. These activities result in prolonged and excessive cervical flexion, or looking down. Holding the head in this position can put as much as 60 pounds of force on the spine.2,3
- Headaches: Staring at a screen all day may fatigue your eyes and lead to headaches3. Poor posture while sitting may irritate the neck muscles and joints that refer pain to the head.
- Selfie elbow4: Photo selfies may be the cause of your elbow pain. Excessive repetition of this outstretched position can irritate muscles and tendons in the forearm, similar to tennis or golfer’s elbow.
- Gamer’s/text thumb1: Repetitive motion of the thumb associated with excessively playing video games, texting or emailing from your phone can irritate the joints and ligaments.
- Low back pain: Sitting or standing for a long time with poor posture is common with office or desk jobs. The abnormal forces through the spine may irritate the discs, nerves and muscles, causing pain.
5 Prevention Tips
- Postural correction: This is not easy to do at first because the muscles meant to hold your posture may be weak. Set alarms for yourself to get back into a good position.
- Take breaks: Every one or two hours, stand, stretch or change your position to avoid prolonged unnecessary force.5
- Check your work area: Keep your computer and smart phone screens at eye level, your chair at a comfortable height, and your arm rests high enough to reach your elbows. Use a lumbar support to avoid poor spine positions. If you have a standing option, routinely alternate between sitting and standing.
- Move: Regular exercise can help you get the variety of movement your body needs while getting other health benefits. Talk to your physician to find out what program is safe for you. Having trouble working in exercise? Try walking at lunch, park in the back of the parking lot, use the stairs, or find a friend to keep you accountable. 5
- Get screened: If you’re experiencing pain, schedule a free screen at your local clinic.