Mobile tech devices have made our lives more convenient and efficient. As of Feb 2012, nearly 50% of Americans owned a smart phone. While gadgets make it easier to accomplish tasks without being physically tethered to an office, this has also increased the amount of time we spend using these devices. Before these advances in technology, our bodies moved as we used the phone and the computer, we walked to the fax machine, and we flipped through our calendars. Now we slump over a small screen with little change in our position. Our bodies are made to move—not to maintain the same stooped-over posture for long periods of time. This doesn’t mean that your health is doomed in the digital world, but you do need to be conscious of the physical effects and what you can do to minimize them.
Protect Your Neck
The bent-forward position increases disc pressure. It also increases loads on the muscles. This is similar to the faulty forward position often used when watching TV and working on the computer. Remember these tips:
• Sit upright, keeping your ears over your shoulders.
• Look down with your eyes and gently tuck your chin in, not forward.
• Never pinch the phone between your ear and shoulder. Using a headset reduces muscle fatigue and frees your hands for typing or writing.
• Support your forearms on a pillow during extended texting to reduce the strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.
Prevent Elbow Injury
The ulnar, or “funny bone,” nerve wraps around the inside of your elbow. Keeping your elbows bent can compress the nerve. As the nerve becomes irritated, you can experience pain, numbness, tingling, and even weakness or muscle atrophy. The nerve sits close to the surface and is also damaged by external pressure. To prevent the risks:
• Minimize the time you bend the elbows to hold the screen up to see it.
• Instead of returning all your e-mails on the phone, wait until you can use the desktop computer. (smaller isn’t always better)
• Avoid prolonged leaning on the flexed elbow while talking on the phone or in the car.
Like a Sore Thumb
Our thumbs are not made to quickly and forcefully press the small keys on cell phones to text and input data. Use the following tips to minimize the risk of injury:
• Alternate among using your thumb, index finger, and a stylus, if available.
• If your only choice is a stylus, change how you hold it. Switch between holding it like a pen and holding it between the index and middle fingers.
• Several multi-tip pens are available at office supply stores that allow you to switch between pen and stylus tips. This is a good option, as the barrel of the pen is thicker than a standard stylus and requires less force on the joints and muscles.
• Minimize the use of scroll wheels as they often cause inflammation of thumb tendons.
Tips to Minimize PDA and Cell Phone Use
• Return only urgent e-mails on the PDA. Respond to other e-mails from your desktop computer.
• Use key shortcuts (cut, paste, etc.) and abbreviations.
• Enter all contact info on the computer, and synchronize the devices to transfer the data to the PDA.
• Monitor the time spent on the phone or PDA.
• Avoid, or at least minimize, using word processing and spreadsheet programs on your PDA.
• Take breaks to stretch and shake out the hands.
• Request an efficiency audit. Ask someone else to observe and comment on your work process. You may find new shortcuts that save time and effort in the future.
As technology progresses, phones and tablets will offer more functions. While it is convenient, remember to reassess your usage habits and know that joints were designed to move!