According to the Pew Research Center, it is estimated there are over 5 billion people who own mobile phones. With over half of the world’s population engaging with electronic devices, the spotlight has been on what technology can do for us, rather than what it is doing to us. Consequently, there has been less thought on what happens to our bodies while using handheld devices.
Recent studies suggest 19 year olds have the same physical activity levels as 6o year olds. What is more, the widespread use of mobile phones has materialized into varying degrees of poor posture. In 2008, Dr. Dean Fishman coined the phrase ‘text neck’ after examining a 17-year old patient who complained of head and neck pain. He observed the youth as she unknowingly pulled her head down and slumped over her phone while texting.
Later, a surge of finger and wrist pain became associated with excessive texting on handheld devices. The term, ‘text claw’ came about to describe the pain felt in the wrists and hands after texting on mobile phones for long periods of time. Initially causing soreness and cramping, these aches could potentially lead to tendonitis and carpel tunnel.
Then came the all too familiar phenomenon of the C-shaped, hunched over back, hovering over a handheld device — dubbed as ‘iPosture’. It took years before the detriments of iPosture became clear and were taken seriously.
In 2013, a survey conducted in the United Kingdom, found 84 percent of young adults ages 18–24 said they’ve suffered back pain, believing this to be caused by iPosture from using mobile devices.
With the frequency and duration of phone usage across the globe, the implications of poor posture influenced by excessive usage is now well known. Yet, while today’s mobile phone users know more about why sitting slumped behind a screen isn’t good for them, they still don’t really know how to protect their stature while engaging with their devices.
How many of you remember taking a body education class in school? You might not remember such a lesson because other than a health or physical education class, you probably didn’t learn how to use your body efficiently at school.
While body education may seem pretty straightforward, its premise is to teach you how your body is designed to work rather than just the anatomy. You may know how to sit, stand, walk, jump, and run. But the question is, how do you carry out each activity? Who actually taught you how to do it?
Nature and nurture facilitated your journey in learning how to roll over, hold your head up, crawl, and then walk. But after that, who taught you how to navigate your body through a plethora of stimuli?
You were never prepared or informed on ways to respond to all the triggers of life. Instead, you just acted and reacted. You formed these habits out of necessity — to survive — with no guidance or knowledge there was an alternative choice.
When the body is introduced to a single stimulus, it can process the information and respond. When it is bombarded with multiple triggers, it reacts with tension. Stimulus overload strains the body and pushes it out of alignment.
For example, before there were mobile phones, there were just telephones. Those ancient devices were simply plugged into a phone jack in the wall. You couldn’t move more than a few feet while talking. Even if you spoke for hours on a telephone, you would eventually put it down.
Modern phones operate quite differently. They are designed to keep you on them. There are multiple triggers at play: texting, talking, reading, browsing, listening to music, watching videos, etc. Reacting to just a few of those activities simultaneously could easily put the body in overdrive.
The aim of present day technology is to keep you engaged. However, the body has a hard time keeping up with all of the choices. Reacting to so much stimuli fatigues the body and leads to collapse, or iPosture.
Instead, focus on one phone function at a time — if you’re talking on the phone, try to resist texting at the same time or opening Instagram to look at pictures.
Then take a break.
This creates space for clear thinking and allows the body to make conscious choices rather than unknowingly reacting to the next trigger.
Move with the body as it was designed
Rounding the back towards a device is often not conscious or intentional. It is merely a response to the habit of being overstimulated. What‘s more, the body isn’t meant to contort itself in such a manner. While the spine can bend, its primary function isn’t to bend over repeatedly throughout the day. The spine is not a joint.
The body is designed to bend at the joints. Most people who use electronic devices bring their heads down and bend their spine by rounding their backs towards the device. Alternatively, it would be more efficient to move forward from the hip joints and keep the back upright in the process.
Overusing the spine and lower back muscles and under-using other muscles whose function is to hold the torso upright — like the core muscles, perpetuates body contortion.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Loosen your grip
Using the body effectively starts with awareness. While technology has been an exciting and invaluable part of life, there are more mindful ways to engage with it.
For starters, how much pressure and tension do you apply to the devices you hold and carry? Chances are, you could easily loosen your grip and still enjoy using your handheld electronics. However, pay attention to the way you engage with your beloved device.
How far is your body leaning towards your iPhone? Your laptop? Your iPad? Can you choose not to move towards it? Are you pounding your fingers on the screen or keyboard as you type? Can you soften your touch and grip on the phone? These are just a few questions you can ask yourself to help offset any undesired habits you may have developed from excessive technology usage.
Something else to keep in mind: the way you hold your body speaks volumes about how manage your devices. If your body is tense, that tension goes straight to your grip. If your body is “relaxing” in a collapsed state (aka rounding the back) what do you think happens to your posture?
Use your body in a different way
What would happen if instead of bringing your body towards the device, you brought the device up towards you? Moreover, what if the next time you reach for your phone, you place it in the palm of one hand and let it rest there? Then gently pick up the other hand to text while the other is resting under the phone. This simple act can free your hands of needless tension by not gripping the phone on both sides.
The next time you remember to check your posture while perusing your favorite app, think ‘up’ instead of straight. Imagine your head is going up like a balloon towards the sky and your spine is the string that follows. That balloon is lifting you up with the gentle breeze that isn’t forced and that string is coming along for the ride — both floating up freely.
Technology is not the enemy
Technology has enabled us to connect to the world and each other in ways that weren’t previously possible. It can be easily credited with the innovation, communication and longevity we enjoy today. There are plenty of reasons to embrace and celebrate technology.
With that being said, being mindful of how much, how often and to what extent we engage with technology is key to living a balanced lifestyle.
Think about body habits as a process. Poor posture doesn’t happen overnight. It is the accumulation of lifelong habits. It cannot be changed by simply ‘sitting up straight’ or ignoring body signals.
Standing tall in a techno-savvy world is possible if we pay attention and recognize harmful habits that interfere with our body’s optimal functioning. The next time you want to reach for your phone, pause first. Check yourself out. Is your head up? Great. Did your spine follow? Excellent. Did you bring the device up towards you rather than the other way around? Wonderful. Now, what about that grip? When in doubt, less is more.