Mobile phones are a big part of most of our lives and we use them constantly without knowing how much pressure they are putting on our body. So lets have a look at how using them impacts us:
Your sight is the dominant sense; it unconsciously controls your posture. Your head ends up aligning to see straight towards what you are looking at. That is why you look down with your head instead of only with your eyes when texting or reading a book. A clear example would be when you slouch when using a laptop or why tall people tend to be more hunched over.
When using the phone your head goes forward and tilted down (Forward Head Posture (FHP)). FHP is considered as such when the head tilts forward more than an inch over the neutral position. Due to the use of technology, FHP is becoming worryingly more common among teenagers and adults (Sojeong Lee 2015). With FHD your gravitational center is affected creating a compensatory overload on upper back and neck muscles that can even spread to your lower back. As the head flexes forward the weight applied to your muscles changes from 10-12 lbs at a neutral position to 60 lbs at 60 degrees (Hansraj 2014).
The longer you use a muscle the more fatigued it will get, therefore getting tighter and tighter. When you hold any posture, specific muscles are used for that specific posture. As long as you hold that posture those muscles will not rest. That is why postures tend to create more strain on your back and neck. A simple example it is how standing still is more tiring for your legs than walking for the same amount of time. While the muscle is contracted, because of the internal pressure, the blood flow is reduced so there is less nutrient delivery and less waste collection. That is why often breaks are important if you have an office job or are standing in one position for long periods of time.
We all get the phone out to relax a bit after a long day at work, but what most people don’t realise is that you are putting more pressure on those muscles that have already been working all day. So you might be relaxing mentally but your muscles are not.
Effects on the body
Mild tension will create some discomfort but day after day that tension tends to build up creating neck pain and stiffness and even tension headaches.
If it becomes routine it can create a progressive shortening of the front muscle chain (front neck, chest, etc.) making more difficult and uncomfortable to hold a neutral posture. This has consequences on your muscle efficiency and on your respiratory capacity. As a consequence, year after year you accumulate several muscle tensions and pains, become more hunched over and even get tired faster.
Tips to improve your FHP
Rising your phone will improve your head posture but at the same time will fatigue your shoulder as well as the lateral part of your neck (because the neck and shoulder are connected).
Trying to keep your head straight moving your eyes instead might work for a moment, but you will not last more than 10 min in that posture. Subconsciously you will slowly tilt your head and revert back to your typical posture.
The best thing to do is minimizing the time spent on the phone, especially when you are feeling tired. The total time you spend on the phone throughout the day is not so important, what’s more important is how long each session is. So try to take breaks and go on your phone for short spells. Dynamic stretches are the key so make sure you are doing stretches to compensate. Our physiotherapists can help you with that if you need some exercise/stretching advice.
And finally, try to use a proper desktop computer set for your height etc instead of using your mobile phone whenever you can.
If you find yourself in a stage when you already feel pain and tension, and you find it difficult and uncomfortable to have a neutral posture you will need a good set of specific and tailored stretches and exercises as well as a professional massage to help you reset your body to a healthy state.
By Raul Hernandez @ Bodyworks
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Hansraj, K. (2014, Nov). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International(9), 227.
Sojeong Lee, H. K. (2015). Head flexion angle while using a smartphone. Journal of Ergonomics, 58(2), 220-226