In recent years, numerous studies have been conducted that confirm a relationship between neck pain and other musculoskeletal issues and the use of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. A new study out of Hong Kong assessed these trends in both adults and children.
The most notorious association between mobile devices and pain is forward head posture, and this study supports the link. Forward head posture occurs when your head is positioned forward of your body’s center line, and is usually accompanied by slumped shoulders and a hollowed out chest. When we use a mobile device, it’s typical to drop our heads down toward it rather than lifting the device up to eye level. Since mobile devices are relied on heavily today, this can lead to prolonged postural dysfunction and resulting pain. Neck pain is a main symptom of forward head posture.
The Hong Kong study researchers surveyed 465 adults and 582 children; smartphones proved to be the most popular mobile device, with 90% of adults and 84% of children reporting their use. Most adults – 70% — reported neck pain and 65%, shoulder pain. The similarity in number between these two suggests that they are both related to postural dysfunction. The amount of adults reporting finger and wrist pain was 46%. Among children, 27.6% reported pain, a number in notable association with the number of children who reported using smartphones for 1-4 hours a day (30%). (Note: Whether those who reported pain were the same children who reported prolonged use of devices was not mentioned.) Of the children who reported pain, 80% had neck pain, and 51% reported wrist and finger pain.
See more on this study at www.sciencedaily.com.
The study confirms what we already knew: People who use mobile devices need to mind their posture, keeping their heads centered over their shoulders with their shoulders pulled back and loose. But the study highlights another important and more novel problem: Children are in pain as well. What is more, there is a risk that joint and tendon issues may develop early on in the hands and wrists, along with muscle and spinal problems in the neck that affect the child throughout life.
Adults with established postural dysfunction (Thanks, muscle memory!) will benefit from practicing self-myofascial release (SMR), a self-massage technique designed to relax chronically tense muscles and allow them to facilitate proper posture. Corrective SMR exercises for forward head posture should target the upper back, neck and chest muscles. See www.lightfield.com to learn about SMR exercises.
While posture is certainly an essential component to combating pain caused by today’s technology, it’s also important to reduce the total time spent on devices. About half of children and adults experience hand and wrist pain from use; given the constant use of the fingers demanded by devices, the only reliable way to prevent tendon and joint problems is to put the device away for a while.
Giving your mobile device its time and place, rather than using it constantly, can help spare you pain from forward head posture and overuse injuries. Technology stops being convenient when it causes us pain.