Laptops, tablets and phones don't encourage good posture - let's spare a thought for our bodies


Rhodri Marsden
Wednesday 26 November 2014 23:00 GMT

A few months ago, I found myself lying face down on a bench somewhere in London's Square Mile, being viciously pummelled by a South African sports injury specialist who'd just diagnosed me with some kind of acute shoulder blade complaint. It became apparent to her through casual questioning that this injury had not been sustained through vigorous activity. Feeble inactivity was more to blame.

My appalling posture while gazing at a range of desktop, laptop and smartphone screens had caused such appalling back pain that I was forced to chug pink painkillers the size of broad beans. Never again, I thought to myself, as she rammed her elbow forcefully into my shoulder while I went "aggghh". I resolved from that point to sit up straight.

It's not easy, though. For all their technological capabilities, laptops, tablets and phones do not encourage us to adopt good posture, and it's easy to forget about the alignment of one's spine while you're absorbed in a Wikipedia exploration of the political history of Burkina Faso (or whatever).

Many smartphone addicts may scoff and offer anecdotal evidence of their pain-free existence, but there's a steady stream of stories that point towards it being an issue. Terms such as HOLS (hunched over laptop syndrome) and "Text Neck" have been used by some doctors for years, and a bunch of surveys underline the problem.

Last year, one conducted by Dynamic Markets found that 79 per cent of UK employees complaining of pain was related to using mobile work devices. Another by Simply Health found 84 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds experiencing back pain. Even allowing for leading questions and discomfort unrelated to technology, they're significant numbers.

A recent paper in Surgical Technology International, written by Kenneth Hansraj, looks at the potential reasons for this. "Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by the Posture and Position of the Head" concludes that the amount of pressure put on our spine by tilting our heads forward by 60 degrees is considerable; a noggin weighing around 5kg in a neutral position exerts a force on the spine of more like 25kg when it's tilted downwards at Candy Crush Saga.

Yes, we adopt similar positions when reading books, but the time we spend looking at portable screens now even eclipses the time we spend watching TV; a new study by Flurry puts it at nearly three hours a day on average, an increase of around 10 per cent in the past nine months.

Of course, certain media outlets are predisposed to bombarding readers or viewers with scare stories about technology, from the potential dangers of radiation to the "digital dementia" adversely affecting our short-term memory. But while these are hard to prove, the very real incidence of back and neck pain can often be averted by merely sitting up straight and being more aware of our own bodies.

I remember my pal Dave once becoming so absorbed in a game of computer chess on his lap that he stood up after about an hour and immediately fell over because his legs had gone to sleep. It was funny at the time, but if we're going to become ferociously absorbed in stuff balanced on our thighs, let's not be like Dave. Let's spare a thought for the body that's going to have to haul us through the next few decades. Have a stretch. Shoulders back. Feel the surge of serotonin and the associated feelings of power. Man, that feels good.

Now. Back to the history of Burkina Faso.

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