Physical effects of mobile phone use

The ‘must have’ gadget

Mobile phones are undoubtedly the ‘must have’ gadget of the 21st Century.  It’s practically unthinkable for someone not to have a mobile phone these days – even my dad would be lost without his!  Smartphones have become smarter than ever and have essentially become powerful mini computers.  Most people would be lost without their phone and there’s no denying how useful these devices can be: we can use them to connect with our friends on social media, order our shopping, book a holiday, find out what the weather is going to do.  They can also (so I’m told) make phone calls if the user so wishes!   But is this all such good news?….

Our obsession with our little screens

No matter where you go these days it is highly likely that you will see a significant amount of people staring down at their mobile phone, scrolling through pages of the latest who-knows-what, who-likes-what or who’s-with-whom.  Aside from the sociological consequences of this focus and obsession with our little screens, what is it doing to us physically and what could be the possible long term consequences?  People are becoming increasingly aware of the need for a good ergonomic set-up at their work desk in order to minimise the risk of long-term postural issues, however little or no thought, it seems, is paid to our use of these devices, despite people practically running their lives from them these days.

Problems caused by overuse

When looking at a mobile phone the user will typically be holding the phone in the palm of one hand, looking directly down at the screen.  In this position the neck is flexed forward putting enormous strain on the soft tissues at the back of the neck as they try to hold the heavy head in this unnatural position.  Over a long period of time the strain that this puts on the neck is likely to cause damage to the ligaments, muscles and tendons of the neck, leading to problems of neck and upper back stiffness, pain and even headaches.  The constant use of the thumb – our most important digit – could also lead to repetitive strain type injuries and prolonged periods of staring at such a small screen could also be putting a strain on our eyes.

So what can be done about it?

There’s very little doubt that mobile phones will continue to be a ‘must have’ for most of us for the foreseeable future therefore we need to think about ways to modify and adapt our use of them in order that they don’t start to have an adverse effect on our health.  There are many ways that this could be done but here are a few thoughts:

  1. Try to check emails at work or home on a computer instead of on the phone. Maybe only link your essential email account to your phone to resist the temptation of looking at the others unnecessarily.
  2. Reduce the amount of emails you have to trawl through by ‘spamming’ or opting out of those circulars that you don’t need. No one needs 20 Groupon emails per day!
  3. Try to change your habits – don’t just get the phone out because you’ve got a minute to spare or can’t think what else to do with your hands.
  4. If you do need to use the phone to pass the time, instead of watching videos/clips etc. maybe download podcasts instead and listen with headphones so you are not having to look at the screen.
  5. If you do watch videos on your phone, ensure the phone is supported somewhere and not held in your hand so you are not craning your neck downwards to look at the screen.
  6. Try not to use the phone for prolonged periods. Think of it more as a convenience device rather than your electronic ‘crutch’.
  7. To reduce stress on the thumbs try changing hands and/or typing with both hands. Leave the long emails for when you’re using your home or work computer.

Therefore, although mobile phones have become an extremely important part of most of our lives, health-wise it’s best for us to try to reduce or modify their use as much as we can.

If you think you may be suffering from any of these problems related to mobile phone use then give us a call on 01354 694050 and book a free 15-minute assessment with one of our osteopaths who will be able to advise on how best it may be treated.