How our phones are hurting our bodies

Shutterstock.com/ Josep Suria

Today we are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. The average life expectancy in the world is at its highest rate ever at 72 years old. While this is great news, a lot of it is down to improved medical procedures and available remedies, not down to changes in lifestyle. While we have learned a lot since the middle ages and now have a pretty good grasp of health and sanitation, the rates of obesity are increasing. Technology is an increasing part of our lives too and while that is largely positive it is having some negative side effects. Staring at screens for too long is damaging eyesight. The rate of neck and back injuries is also increasing and mobile phones have been found to be the reason.

Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj published a paper recently that summarised the results of a study he conducted at a spine surgery and rehabilitation unit. The study was based on a computer simulation model that could look at different postures and how they influence the load place on the body. His findings showed that we need to keep our chin up, I don’t mean to be positive, I mean literally keep our chin higher up.

The head weighs approximately five kilograms usually. That is a particularly heavy object to carry around all day long. Yet our neck and back are designed to manage it. The posture we have when walking or sitting is straight to allow our body to align properly and manage the load. Yet when we use our mobile phones are heads slouch forward placing an additional strain on the back of our necks that carries through to our upper back and shoulders. The change in posture means we are putting additional weight on our bodies as if our head weighed closer to 12 kilograms. This is damaging the support mechanisms that are in place. 

The average person uses their phone for about three hours every day and this is a long time to put a consistent strain on our muscles. Teenagers are at the highest risk as they spend the longest time on their phones. Hansraj says that these findings are not just a prediction for what is coming they are support material for what most clinics are already seeing. There is a huge amount of teenagers coming to the clinic with injuries in the neck and upper back. Mobile phones are the cause.

What can be done? The world has moved on and we are now mobile people. Asking someone to put their phone down will likely soon be described as denying someone their basic human right. Yet that is what is required. If we want to help our bodies remain healthy as we get older we need to spend less time on our phones. Of course, if you really have to use your phone there is another simple solution, but I warn you, you are not going to like it. You could just pick your phone up. If everyone held their phones in front of their faces there would be no need to strain our necks and no adverse demands on our body. Yet that would look weird.

If you can’t put your phone down or lift it up then at the very least you need to take more breaks. Putting your phone in your pocket for 20 seconds every five minutes will at least give your neck a break from all the struggles. Try to change your habits as well. If there are things that can be done on your computer that may be better for your posture in the long run (as long as you have an ergonomically designed layout). Be smart, look after your body, and take a break from your phone once in a while. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.