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If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly looking at a screen. You might be staring at your work desktop computer; reading on your phone during your commute; or lounging on the couch, semi-focused between the tablet and the TV. How long have you been gazing at the screen? More importantly, how are you sitting?

You probably haven’t given it a second thought, but odds are that you’re hunched over the screen, your back is bent, head’s forward and you’re gazing down.

In this post, we’re going to look at the negative effects the many varied digital devices we use every day are having on our bodies. What they do to our posture, our movement and our susceptibility to injury, in the short and long-term!

Desktop computers, laptops, and more recently tablets and mobile phones have become part of our everyday lives. Many of us work long hours without breaks, often hot-desking or working from home. Some of us use our mobiles as our ‘work stations’, pinging out emails as we stand on the bus or walk to the office. But, it’s not just at work! We are constantly using our computers, tablets and mobiles to manage our lives and access information and entertainment. The benefits they bring can be huge and wonderful; but the effects they have on our bodies can be not so wonderful.

Regardless of the digital device, they all have the potential to put a strain on our bodies. The way in which we hold ourselves whilst using this technology is altering our posture and body mechanics in unhealthy ways that can lead to neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain and overuse injuries of the arms and wrists.

What happens to our bodies when we are looking at a screen?

If you are in an office or a public place, take a moment to look around. How many people are hunching over their computers, laptops, tablets or phones?

What tends to happen, whether we are sitting at a desktop computer or laptop, or standing holding a mobile or tablet, is that we let our bodies relax. When we do this, our lower back slumps, our shoulders turn inwards and roll forwards, and our head tilts forwards and down to look at the screen.

Typically, an adult human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. As our head tilts downwards, the perceived weight of our head increases. When using a mobile phone, for example, we tend to bend our neck forward 60 degrees, increasing the effective stress on our neck to 60 pounds.

As a result, the muscles that run along the spine, which help stabilise, control and support the head are compromised, causing tightness and tension in our neck, shoulders and back. Initially we may not notice the impact of this postural tendency, but over time we may start to feel burning or aching in the upper back or neck, headaches, nerve impingement, reduced blood flow to the upper body and head, pain that gets worse with prolonged use of our devices, and difficulty achieving good posture.

Think about the fact that, on average, we hold our head forward to look at a phone or tablet for between 2 to 4 hours a day (and then there’s all our additional computer work) – this excess strain is creating extra wear and tear on the structures of the neck, upper spine and back.

Postural changes develop slowly over many years and if we ignore them, strain is then in turn placed on other parts of the body including lower back, hips and knees.

This postural imbalance makes the body much more vulnerable to injury in everyday activities or sport and it does not just affect the spine and torso where the signs may be more obvious. At Hub, we see many patients who have suffered injuries which they assume have been caused by a particular activity like running or weight training – but if this was true then all people who did those activities would get the same injuries.

In fact, the cause is often their prolonged poor screen posture which has weakened their muscles making them more susceptible to injury.

So, how can we ensure that screen time isn’t damaging our bodies?

Aside from avoiding screens altogether – and let’s be honest, most of us aren’t going do this – there are ways in which we can improve our screen posture and keep our bodies happy, below are our 5 key tips…

 

1. Keep a varied posture

This is so important! As muscles tire, slouching, slumping and other poor postures become more likely; this in turn puts extra pressure on our neck and back. To maintain a relaxed, yet supported, posture when we’re sitting or standing, change positions frequently.

Standing desks are fantastic if we work with desktop computers throughout the day as they can help offset the time we spend sitting and even just breaking up our work day with some standing time can ease the pressure on our spine.

We should get up and move as much as possible throughout the day – every 15 minutes ideally!

 

2. Setup correctly

We’re not all lucky enough to have a standing desk and so much of our day is spent sitting. If this is the case, then it is vital that we have the correct work setup.

  • Sit up straight with our ears, shoulders and hips aligned vertically;
  • Maintain our neck in a neutral position, keep our shoulders relaxed and down;
  • Sit with our hips towards the back of the chair and slightly above our knees with our feet supported;
  • Position the top of the computer screen to our natural resting eye position (15-50 degrees below the horizontal line of sight) and directly in front of us to avoid leaning or straining the neck with head tilted forward;
  • Set our keyboard in front of us and relatively close to our body so that our forearms rest on the desk with our upper arms close to our body. A tilted keyboard allows us to maintain straight wrists and reduce strain.
  • Wherever possible, we should reduce our use of the mouse by learning keyboard shortcuts and keeping the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible; and
  • Be aware of and avoid unbalanced postures such as crossing legs unevenly while sitting or leaning to one side.

For laptop users… it’s worth noting that laptops result in more strains and pains than desktop computers because it’s impossible to have good posture when the screen and keyboard are so close together. It can really help if we use a separate keyboard and mouse with our laptop (raising the screen) and for sustained comfortable use, avoid laptops altogether.

When using mobiles and tablets, we should raise them up level or just a little below our face, instead of bending our head to look down, and keep our shoulders down and back. And, of course, we should limit the time we spend using them!

 

3. De-stress

This is a big factor – if we ever feel aware that we’re stressed and tense, we should take a few deep breaths and relax our neck and shoulders.

 

4. Exercise

This is essential for injury prevention and promoting good posture. Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or a HIIT: BURN class at Hub, helps our body stay aerobically conditioned. Specific strengthening exercises can further help to condition muscles and prevent injury!

 

5. Get help…

Fostering good habits, limiting screen time where we can, and paying attention to our posture is key to keeping our bodies happy and healthy. But, if we do experience any aches or pains, we should always, always get help before it turns into something more serious!

 

Our fabulous team of registered osteopaths, massage therapists and personal trainers at Hub are here to help you get pain free and functioning optimally.

Laurel Truscott

Sports & Deep Tissue Massage Therapist

 

Hub is an integrated health clinic set in south-west London at the heart of Clapham on Venn Street, by Clapham Common underground station. The team includes osteopaths, personal trainers, sports rehabilitation experts, acupuncturists, sports massage therapists and nutritionists who all work together to ensure you achieve and maintain optimal health and fitness.

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