Move over couch potato. It appears that the latest unhealthy trend occupying the sofa is the ‘text neck’.
Some of the worst offenders? Excessive smartphone users, who slouch, spread, lie, and wriggle into a seemingly comfy position for an all-out phone binge.
That’s according to new research which has found a direct link between excessive mobile phone use and musculoskeletal disorders, such as neck and upper back pain.
The finding has prompted physiotherapists to take a stand against the daily slump.
“Smartphone users typically bend their neck slightly forward when reading and writing text messages. They also sometimes bend or twist their neck sideways and put their upper body and legs in awkward positions,” University of South Australia physiotherapist, Dr Rose Boucaut said.
“These postures put uneven pressure on the soft tissues around the spine, that can lead to discomfort.”
Dr Boucaut, who helped edit the Thai-led paper, told The New Daily that it’s not only the posture but the time we spend in that position, too.
The average person spent around five to eight hours using a smartphone per day, according to an earlier study involving around 700 students led by the research team.
“I think that’s the problem when you get swept away with the content that’s on the phone,” Dr Boucaut said.
And in reality, the problem extends beyond the couch, she said.
Using a computer or laptop at work all day can have a compounding effect. Bedtime offenders are also aplenty, with many people falling asleep or waking up with their phones, which could be contributing to the problem.
For the study, the team from Khon Kaen University in Thailand video-recorded 30 smartphone users who spend up to eight hours a day on their phones.
The participants then had their ergonomic risk levels tested, using the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment tool (RULA), which is typically conducted in desktop computers and laptop ergonomic studies. This was the first time the tool has been used to assess ergonomic risk in excessive mobile phone users.
All the participants ended up with high ergonomic risk scores, with most of the musculoskeletal disorders stemming from the neck (90 per cent), followed by the shoulder (73 per cent), upper back (63 per cent), wrist and hand (37 per cent) and lower back (30 per cent).
Their previous research, involving around 700 students, had found that musculoskeletal disorders were more common among people who used their phone more than five hours a day, and those who smoked and led sedentary lifestyles.
Some postures were worse than others
A combination of awkward neck, torso and leg postures was causing the neck and back pain, the researchers wrote.
The worst positions in the neck was holding the neck down at 20 degrees or more, or extending the neck while twisting or bending it to the side. For example, while lying against a sofa or while in bed.
In the torso, holding a twisted or side bent posture at more than 20 degrees also increased a person’s risk of muscle problems.
Legs should also be well supported or evenly balanced, the researchers wrote.
Preventing text neck
In general, some of the best office ergonomic tips can also apply to smartphone use. This includes sitting up straight, keeping your shoulders down and not shrugged, and moving around or changing positions often.
Dr Boucaut suggested sitting in a “neutral” position, without straining or twisting your body or joints, as much as you can when using your phone.
Also, point out to your partner or friend if you notice they are sitting or standing in an awkward position while using their device. Often, we’re not paying attention to our posture when engrossed with what’s happening on the screen, Dr Boucaut said.
Other tips include:
- Using both hands to text or type – there’s some evidence to suggest this may lessen the burden on one hand or wrist.
- Using your smartphone on a desk, or even better, propping up your smartphone against a book or another object on the table to avoid chin-to-chest straining
- Getting up and changing positions often
- Tracking your screen time using an app or your phone’s built-in feature. “Sometimes you don’t think you’re using your smartphone very much but actually when you get your screen time back it’s more than you perhaps would have anticipated,” Dr Boucaut said.
If all else fails, next time you LOL or ROFL, try actually getting up and rolling on the floor laughing. That should put the mobile back in mobile phone.