While smartphones and laptops provide technology that can make our lives much easier, they can also be a pain in the neck — literally.
For example, most of us have heard the term "BlackBerry Thumb." Named for one of the first smartphones to have a Qwerty keyboard, it is a repetitive strain injury caused by overusing mobile phones to send emails and texts.
In honor of National Physical Therapy Month, Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedic’s Charles Healy, DPT, discusses some of the other ways in ways in which smartphones and laptops can cause aches and pains in users’ bodies — and offers tips to avoid those problems.
1. Watch your posture.
"Often times we see a lot of smartphone users develop really poor posture from constantly looking down at their screen," Healy says. "That typically results in them adapting with forward-rounded shoulders, excessive flexion in their neck and an overall slouched posture. We have seen this result in neck pain, shoulder pain and low back pain primarily, but it’s possible to get a multitude of other secondary ailments due to prolonged periods in poor sitting and standing postures."
If not treated, the long-term effects of poor posture can be quite serious.
To avoid these problems, rather than tilting your head down, keep it up, and bring your phone higher to meet it.
2. Treat your laptop like a desktop computer when possible.
Healey says laptop users are at greater risk for pain.
"Laptop users are actually more likely to develop poor postures than desktop users, because the keypad and screen are so close to one another," he explains. "Ideally the keypad is at waist height and no more than a forearm's length away. The computer screen ideally should be slightly below eye level. Most laptops don’t allow for both of these situations to be possible, unless you use a wireless keyboard instead of the laptop keyboard."
3. Create an ergonomic workstation.
Fortunately, the number of patients seeking treatment for these issues seems to be on the decline.
"We see teenagers and office workers suffer from these ailments the most," Healy says. "I would actually say that we have been seeing slightly less people suffering from these ailments over the last few years. This could be due to the public becoming more aware of the importance of staying active throughout the work day, proper sitting and standing posture being taught through social media and TV or simply from workplace environments starting to become more ergonomically conscientious."
Healy recommends converting to standing desks whenever possible to allow for an ideal ergonomic workstation. As he reminds us, sitting for long periods of time in general can lead to a multitude of structural and physiological health problems.
He recommends seeing a doctor or physical therapist any time your normal daily activities hurt for an unknown reason.