In the span of two decades, personal hand held devices evolved from a luxury reserved primarily for entertainment purposes to an integral part of our daily existence. We look to our phones, tablets and laptops for everything from education, to work, to ordering your morning coffee and coordinating your commute. As more professions become computer based, and more of our leisure time begins to revolve around the keyboard or phone screen, we tend to take for granted the extra stress we are now placing on our bodies.
Typing, mousing, swiping and even holding our devices constantly can create undo tension on the hands and arms. It always surprises me how much abuse the body can take before feeling any symptoms of overuse and tissue damage.
The Neck & Spine
Looking down to our handheld device or holding a tablet too low in your lap can place the small, interlocking bones at the top of the spine (the cervical vertebrae) and the neck muscles into an unnatural posture. This can strain muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and spinal discs.
HOW CAN YOU LIMIT THE DAMAGE?
The first step is simply to become aware of your posture. If you spend a lot of time on a handheld phone or using a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet, pause occasionally to notice how your body is situated. Is your back curved? Shoulders hunched? Head bent downward? Chin jutting forward or head slumped toward one shoulder? Legs crossed, hiking one hip higher than the other?
Tips & Tricks for Corrective Ergonomics
If you use a laptop or desktop computer:
Choose a chair with good lumbar support, or place a pillow against the small of your back.
Position the top of your monitor just below eye level. That helps whether you use a desktop or a laptop
Sit up straight with your head level, not bent forward.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your body.
Keep hands, wrists, forearms, and thighs parallel to the floor.
If you use a handheld phone:
As with any phone, avoid propping it between your head and shoulder.
Consider investing in a comfortable, hands-free headset. Depending on your needs, you can choose one equipped for Bluetooth or designed for use with cordless phones, landlines, or computers.
If you use an e-reader or tablet:
Buy a case that allows you to prop the device at a comfortable viewing angle, and rest it somewhere that doesn't require you to bend your neck much. Keep in mind that it's best to position the device with the top edge just below eye level. Some surfaces, such as a kitchen table, may be too low even with the case.
Take a break every 15 minutes. Even just changing what your hands are doing, shifting your weight, standing and walking around can go a long way.
Good ergonomics, regular posture checks, stretching, flexibility exercises and a good massage can help correct these problems. Soft tissue therapy, as used by a Massage Therapist, can alleviate and prevent small aches from becoming complete injuries and creating chronic pain.
Tuan Chau, RMT