Do you ever wonder what using your phone all day is doing to affect you or your family’s health? Like many parents, I am guilty of using a cell phone or tablet to distract the children and keep my sanity while running errands or taking an important call. Recently though, I’ve noticed that my three-year-old is developing some bad postural habits as a result of her time with my phone. If this is happening with my three-year-old, then what happens to adults who are on their mobile devices and tablets constantly and do not have a parent telling them to sit up straight all the time?
No matter how much you want to believe that you are exempt from these tendencies, the truth is that you and your family’s health is being affected in a negative way.
Cell phones and tablets are amazing forms of technology that can simplify and organize our everyday lives. We are able to connect with distant loved ones and friends, check the weather, respond to an email, plan a family trip, read a book and watch a movie, all in the span of a few moments. With so much to do our eyes are fixated on a screen, whether it’s a computer, phone, or TV, for a good portion of the day. This provides us many opportunities to fall into poor postural habits.
The first postural habits that need attention are those of the hand. While holding the device, especially while using a cell phone, the fingers are curled, the wrist is bent upward, and the thumb is constantly moving. Have you ever had soreness in your hand when using your phone for a long period of time? And if so, what did you do about it? The first thing you should do is put the phone down! Then, take some time to stretch out your hand, fingers, wrist, elbow, and thumb. Putting your palms together in front of you and pushing your wrists down toward the floor can open up your fingers and extend your wrists to stretch those tight structures. Simply taking a break every fifteen to twenty minutes to stretch quickly will help ease the strain put your body by constant daily phone use.
Neck and Shoulders
It’s not just your hands that are affected by constant phone use throughout the day; using your phone too much can put your neck and shoulders under stress as well. This is caused by the strain from looking down at your phone. Bending your head forward and rounding your shoulders contributes to poor postural habits that are harder to break or retrain once they become “normal” for you. This rounded posture occurs when the muscles in front of your shoulders and neck become tight, while the muscles behind your neck and upper back are stretched and stressed. You may notice your shoulders starting to hike up toward your ears as well. The abnormal postural positions to which your body contorts during cell phone use have the potential to put stress on the spine, muscles of your shoulders, and neck. This can lead to stress headaches, difficulty concentrating, and eventually even some numbness and tingling down the arm.
In order to combat all of this, take daily stretch breaks to help counter the rounded posture. For example, find a corner or doorway to put your arms up against, gently stretching out your chest and shoulders, or simply take a moment to roll your shoulders backward. Doing some exercises to strengthen the upper back can also make it easier for you to maintain proper posture without as much effort. A simple strength exercise you can do while at your desk is to sit up straight in a chair and squeeze your shoulder blades together. As an Arizona physical therapy expert, I come into contact with very few patients who don’t need to do some type of work to improve their posture.
Bring in Reinforcements
We all need to be connected to our phones and computers for various reasons, whether it’s to work or organize our lives. However, it comes at a hefty price if we are not making sure to take care of ourselves. I have found that enlisting the help of family or co-worker can be very beneficial. You can help keep your family and friends accountable by giving gentle reminders or making a game of trying to catch each other in the bad postures mentioned above.
In my house, my seven-year-old son has a tablet that he is allowed to use within certain restrictions. As a family, we have talked about posture, appropriate volume levels, and the appropriate times to use the tablet. Now that he has been taught the proper way to use the device, he is the one who helps my husband and me when we are using ours. He helps us to disengage from our phones, telling us to sit up straight and put the phone down at the table. I have had several patients tell me how much a similar accountability system has helped their families improve their posture while using their devices.
Even still, there are occasionally times when we all slip into bad habits. But the more aware you are of the habits you are slipping into, the better off you—and your whole family—will be at making better choices when using a cell phone or tablet. Simply making devices “off limits” for certain times during each day (such as meal time or family time) can help you reconnect with those around you. Because no matter how connected a cell phone or tablet may keep you, there are loved ones at arm’s reach that want to share moments and memories with you. So, in closing, put the phone down and go talk to someone!