Pain in the App – Some Smartphone habits not so smart

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Technology can make our life easier, provide us with amazing gadgets, and open us to a world of information and connection. But how does it impact the human body? Being a bodyworker who specializes in repetitive strain injuries, body mechanics, and ergonomics, I am particularly interested in the interplay of man and machine.

I purchased an iPhone recently, finally giving up my 8-year-old dinosaur of a cell phone. Yes, I wanted a smartphone and imagined all the possibilities: apps, email, video calling, the World Wide Web at my fingertips. I anxiously awaited its arrival.

On the third day after the phone arrived, I awoke with a stiff neck, sore upper back, and tight arms. Did I sleep in an awkward position? Had I been doing any unusual physical labor? As I sat down to play with my iPhone again, it hit me.

It was the phone that was making me sore, or more accurately, I was hurting myself with the way I was using the device. I had discovered a new repetitive strain injury–I called it smartphone neck syndrome. I had been sitting and standing with my head bent over the phone while holding it and making fine finger movements for hours at a time. This was a recipe for strain and pain.

What to do? I loved my new phone and all its functions, so I was determined to figure out how to enjoy this new device and not hurt myself.

Smartphone Ergonomics
Putting my body mechanics knowledge to use, I created some tips for avoiding the pain that improper smartphone ergonomics can create.
Bring the phone up to your line of sight rather than tilting your head down to the phone. This will keep your head resting on top of your body and in alignment with your spine. When the head is hanging down and forward, it is unsupported and the neck, shoulders, and upper back must grip and strain.

To prevent arm strain, use a wireless headset when talking on the phone for extended periods. Never hold the phone clamped between your head and shoulder.

Take regular and frequent breaks. You should not spend more than 15 minutes at a time on the device.

Use the device intelligently. Although it can perform many functions, it is not really a computer, gaming station, or video monitor. Do as much as you can on your regular desktop or laptop computer.

Take the time to stretch your neck, shoulders, and arms if you are away from home and need to use the smartphone a lot.

With a little know-how, these ergonomic suggestions will help keep your body happy for many more years of emailing, texting, Tweeting, Skyping, Googling, etc.

By Joseph Hunton a certified Hellerwork practitioner and licensed massage practitioner. He works with acute and chronic pain clients and specializes in treating repetitive strain injuries. Along with his private practice, Hunton works in some of the preeminent physical and occupational therapy clinics in the Seattle area. Contact him at joseph@josephhunton.com.
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Summer 2011. Copyright 2011. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
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