As a society, we have become increasingly reliant on mobile devices such as our smartphones and tablets, using them for everything from socialising to working.
While these devices have made our lives more convenient, they have also brought with them a risk of injury. In this article, we will look at the impact of handheld device usage on posture and on eye health, and provide some tips on avoiding RSI when using your mobile devices.
Introduction to the safe use of mobile devices
The increased usage of handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets has led to a rise in health concerns. Poor posture, and eye strain are commonly seen issues that can arise from excessive use.
One of the main problems is that we can use handheld devices anywhere and everywhere, this means that our usage is not restricted by working hours. Furthermore, we use them whilst sitting, standing or lying, basically in a million different positions – most of which probably aren’t very good for our bodies.
Once an injury develops, it can be challenging to treat. Therefore, it’s best to focus on prevention by changing habits now. By taking simple steps to improve our posture and reduce our screen time, we can mitigate the negative effects of using handheld devices.
The physical impact of using handheld devices
You may enjoy using your smart phone or tablet but there are some unexpected and adverse effects.
We tend to hunch over when we are using our phones, putting a strain on our neck and back muscles. The effects tend to be short-term. However, over time, if poor posture is not addressed, it can lead to chronic pain and even spinal problems.
Repeated motions and unnatural postures mean there is a significant risk of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as cell phone elbow.
Cell phone elbow
Keeping your elbow bent for long periods of time eg while holding a phone up to the ear or mouth one of the most damaging positions for your elbow joints. In fact, this specific injury has been given the name ‘cell phone elbow’. Cell phone elbow now ranks as the second most common upper limb nerve injury after carpal tunnel syndrome.
By continually flexing your arm, you stretch the ulnar nerve which runs from the elbow to the ring finger and little finger. This can cause tingling or numbness and weakness. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent nerve damage and muscle degradation.
To avoid cell phone elbow, when you are on a long call, you should swap ears every 6 minutes.
If you do feel any discomfort, you have already held that position for too long. You should put your phone down and avoid any activities which require you to bend your elbow for long periods of time.
- If the pain is not sharp, a simple forearm stretch is probably going to help alleviate some of the tightness:
Hold your arm out with your palm facing down and tuck your wrist under your hand.
- Pull gently with your opposite hand. Hold that for about 30 seconds.
- Next, turn your hand so your palm is facing upwards and pull your hand backwards.
Even better, invest in a handsfree headset.
Excessive texting requires repetitive motion of the thumb and can lead to the development of conditions such as tendonitis, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Symptoms include pain around the thumb side of the wrist and moving up the forearm. This may appear gradually or suddenly.
Using a keypad can also lead to inflammations around the finger joints, increasing the risk of developing trigger finger. Symptoms include pain and the feeling the joint is locking when you bend or straighten it.
Using one hand for text messaging increases stress on the body so it is best to hold the phone with both hands when texting.
Tips for reducing back and neck pain caused by using mobile devices
First and foremost, as with all use of screens, we should take frequent breaks to stretch our muscles and relax our necks.
If you are using the touch screen on your tablet or phone, holding the device flat is bad for your neck whereas holding it completely perpendicular is bad for your wrists.
To improve your posture, try to keep your head up and your shoulders back. By holding your handheld at a 30 degree angle when you’re typing or using the touch screen, you can reduce the strain on your neck and your spine. If you’re just reading, you can position it at whatever angle makes it easy to read.
To help maintain a good posture, consider using a phone stand or holder to reduce the strain on our neck and back muscles.
As you type or use the touch screen, be sure to keep your wrists straight, while keeping your arms and fingers loose and relaxed.
How to avoid eye strain from handheld device screens
Extended use can also cause eye strain, a condition that can lead to headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision.
To avoid eye strain, here are a few tips:
- One of the most important things you can do to protect your eyes is to take regular breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule :Every 20 minutes, look aways from your screen at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Avoid holding the device too close to your face. Instead, make the font larger when possible. Where this isn’t possible, consider buying glasses specifically for reading on tablet displays.
- Adjust the brightness and contrast of the screen. Overly bright or overly dim screen will strain your eyes.
- Adjust lights to ensure there is proper lighting in the room. Overly dim lighting or overly bright lighting can cause strain to your eyes.
- Blink! People tend to blink less frequently when staring at a screen. Frequent blinking will help keep your eyes lubricated. It will also transfer oxygen to the cornea to help keep your eyes healthy.
Reduce or eliminate blue light
Because of how much we’re use our computers, tablets, and smartphones, exposure to blue light has become a subject of concern. All of these devices emit blue light.
Increased or long-term exposure to blue light causes eye strain and there is growing evidence that it also damages the retina leading to macular degeneration.
You could try tweaking your colour temperature to a yellower hue to help ease the strain on your eyes.
If you’re using an iPad/iPad, you can also use the color adjusting F.lux software which adjusts your display’s colour temperature depending on the time of day, and the type or volume of ambient lighting in your room.
If you use Android, an app called Twilight works similarly to F.lux.
Blue light makes it more difficult to get to sleep at night by affecting our circadian rhythms. If you must use your device at nighttime, switch to dark mode or night mode.
Useful apps for managing mobile phone usage
By taking regular breaks, we can reduce the strain on our eyes, neck, and back muscles, and also give our brains a rest.
There are many apps available to help us manage our mobile phone usage. These apps can track our screen time, set limits on usage, and even block certain apps during specified times.
Some popular apps for managing mobile phone usage include Offtime, and Forest. These apps can be especially useful for those who struggle with addiction or find it difficult to reduce their screen time on their own.
Mobile phones have become an essential part of modern life. However, excessive usage of these devices can lead to a host of health concerns, namely poor posture and eye strain. By following the tips and tricks outlined in this article, we can use our smartphones and tablets responsibly and reduce the negative impact on our health.
You may want to consider some postural training such as that provided by our Workstation Set-Up and Self Assessment Workshop which has been designed for mobile and hybrid workers.
The key points are to remember to take frequent breaks, maintain good posture, reduce blue light and use apps to help manage your screen time.
Additionally, we should avoid using our devices in dark environments, adjust our screen brightness and contrast, and use a phone stand or holder to reduce strain on our neck and back muscles.
By doing so, you can enjoy the convenience of mobile technology without sacrificing your health. Your health is worth the effort.