Posture and technology - how phones and laptops are hurting your body

Today’s technology-driven world has brought so many conveniences and life improvements. However, the impact of body posture and technology has been coming to light as a drawback of our new high tech world lives.

Phones and laptops have opened up for what sometimes seem like limitless possibilities, from real-time communication to doing business anywhere in the world to enjoying games or HD movies and tv-shows – all of these with increasingly greater accessibility and mobility.

Body Posture and Technology Use, What Can You Do?

Most would not appreciate life without all this cool technology. However, that does not mean you should not be concerned about the effects it might have on your body and mind. Because along with the advantages of technology come the disadvantages as well. For example, how many times do you check your phone per day or in general spend looking at it?

According to a report from eMarketer, the average US adult will spend 2 hours and 55 minutes on a smartphone every day! Pair that with the fact that many office workers and students will also spend considerable time working from a laptop, and we are talking about some serious hours here.

To find out what that means for your body continue reading, but first, ask yourself this question:

As you are reading this article right now, what does your posture look like?

How much time do you spend every day sitting in a position like this?

Why Your Body Posture Matters

“Posture” refers to your body position when standing, sitting, lying down, and when performing different movements. It is your bones, joints, muscles and in particular spine that will determine your posture. All of them are moving parts and will adapt to how they are being used which means so will your posture.

In other words, your current posture can be viewed as the reflection of 1) the positions you spend a dominant portion of your time in and 2) how you move your body.

What is Good Posture?

Good posture is all about maintaining an upright spine and have joints and bones in proper alignment. That way force is distributed evenly and it ensures that the different muscles work effectively and efficiently. With good posture you can perform well in the gym (and outside as well) while minimizing 1) wear and tear on your muscles and joints and 2) risk of injury and pain.

Upper Body Posture and Injury

About 3 years ago I experienced first-hand how poor upper-body posture can lead to a shoulder injury. Smartphone and laptop use was a big part of both my work and personal life (it still is), and it had given my upper body a crooked Mr. Burns look.

Not only did it look bad, but it caused stiffness, uncomfortableness, and a painful shoulder injury. However, it doesn’t stop there since posture can also affect your breathing and digestion.

Imagine blowing a balloon while someone is sitting on it - not an easy task right? Your lungs need space to fully expand and if you are hunching over you are compressing the space in your abdomen and thereby reducing the space for your lungs to expand. Read more about it here.

Same goes for your intestine and all other internal organs. Food needs to flow freely through your gut, and if it can’t it you risk indigestion and constipation. Read more about the link between poor posture and indigestion here.

Poor posture has also been shown to negatively affect mental state and performance.

The effects of bad body posture and technology use go even further than you may think. In 2014, a study investigated depressed individuals and their tendency to recall negative things about themselves. The people who were slouching recalled more negative words about themselves than positive while people who had an upright sitting posture had no bias.

Another study found that students would score higher on tests when sitting up straight with relaxed shoulders compared to other students who were slouching. Interestingly enough, there seemed to be an even larger difference when the subject of the test was feared by the students.

Social psychologist and lecturer at Harvard University Amy Cuddy did a TED talk in 2012 on her concept of power poses, and it quickly became very popular.

When adopting a certain kind of posture, people would:

good posture
  • Feel more “powerful” (subjectively)
  • Perform better in mock-interviews
  • Positive changes in hormone levels that are associated with less stress and anxiety

The idea was backed up by a good amount of research, but it was later heavily criticized. She was able to refute a lot of that criticism, but it is still a controversial topic especially regarding changes to hormone levels. Read more about it here.

If nothing else, good posture looks good and makes you appear more fit!

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is a scientific discipline that deals with the process of planning, designing, and arranging the physical environment and our tools in a way that promotes safety, comfort, and productivity.

Investing in an ergonomically designed workplace is a wise decision since it increases your comfort and enables longer work sessions. Many employers do it happily since it saves them a lot of money long-term. It reduces work-related injuries and ailments, and subsequently, employee absenteeism.

Ask any expert in ergonomics about the design of phones and laptops, and I will bet on the answer that you will get! “Normal” or the popular way to use laptops and phones are clearly in violation with ergonomic design, which is likely the reason why so many people feel stiff and uncomfortable in neck and upper back after a longer session.

One study from Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Microsoft was able to confirm such a link. The researchers found that bending the neck to look and operate mobile devices could potentially cause neck and shoulder pain.

How "normal use" of phones and laptops destroys your posture

Posture and technology - text neck, photo credit Bankok Hospital

The portability and flexibility of smartphones and laptops are the same reasons why people adopt a poor posture while using them. Because of the small screens and crowded keyboards, people tend to lean forward, hunch-over and bend the neck.

This hunching over and neck-bending creates tremendous stress on your neck and spine. Here is an explanation that will make it easier to quantify. Your adult head weighs around 4-5 kg and when it is in a normal position that is the same amount of force it will put on your neck and spine.

When bending the neck downwards at a 45-degree angle, which most people do when they are looking at their phone, that force quadruples (4x). This is not an exaggeration but instead simple physics at work – a.k.a. the principle of the lever. You can read more about that on spine-health.com.

The position of your shoulders is another thing that takes a heavy hit. They tend to roll forwards and inwards which also creates added stress on your spine and is not a good position for lifting heavy weights!

Over time your muscles in the front (chest and neck extensors) become tight while the corresponding muscles in the back (upper back and neck flexors) become elongated and weak. This combination locks your head and shoulders in a constant poor posture and is known as upper crossed syndrome.

What to do instead?

There are many things that will help, but paying attention and being mindful about your back’s alignment is a must if you want to ensure good posture. If you are fighting old habits and perhaps even some muscular adaptations it is going to be really tough in the beginning, but if you stay on course new habits will form and at some point it will be much easier.

To help you get off to a good start, here are 5 things to focus on:

#1 Limit phone and laptop use

Posture and technology - limit cell phone use.

One of the best ways to address the problems with posture and technology is to limit your use of mobile devices. With a few tweaks, you can probably cut the time you spend on your phone in half. Do various tasks in bulk and stop checking your email and social media all the time. I would suggest you schedule a designated time and stick to it.

You can use screen time tracking on your phone. It is available on both iOS and Android. If you like me do all your work on a laptop, then you should get a stand and external keyboard and mouse for longer sessions. See number 4.

#2 Set a reminder

Get a reminder on your phone or laptop that will alert you to get up every hour or so. Get up, walk around and maybe do some light stretching. It will go a long way to help your posture.

Some devices will actually be able to tell you when you have been sitting for too long. I have a cheap smartwatch that alerts me when I have been idle for too long.

#3 Follow the recommended position when using your phone

Whenever you are using your phone, try to bend your neck as little as possible. You can lift up the phone and screen in front of you as this will create much less stress on your neck and spine. The position may seem awkward at first but you will get used to it over time.

#4 Follow some posture tips when using your laptop

Posture and technology - lap top tips

First of all, avoid doing as the name suggest and put it in your lap! Ideally, the screen of the laptop should be positioned in a way that you do not have to bend your neck while using it. Once you open the screen, it should be at eye level. Placing it on a stable base such as a laptop stand or a stack of thick books is safer and more comfortable to use for long hours.

Use external mouse and keyboard and position them at a height that allows your arms and shoulders to relax. When working, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle and must be tucked close to your body.

Increasing the screen size can also help. Instead of hunching forward to read from your screen, you can either get a laptop with the largest screen possible or increase the font size.

After setting up your laptop desk area, have something to support your back while sitting. Your legs should be bent at 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor.

#5 Exercise to improve your posture

Posture and technology- exercise for better posture

Exercising is a great way to both prevent and reverse poor posture. For general prevention, I would recommend weight training and yoga.

But if you need to reverse the effects that laptop and phone use have had on your body, you will need to be more specific. You will need to stretch tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles.

Here are the exercise that I have personally found give the most bang for the buck

Neck

Grab the side of the top of your head with the opposite hand and pull gently for a nice stretch. 3 sets of 20-30 seconds to each side.

Chin tucks are great for both stretching and strengthening at the same time. Tuck your chin and head backward and hold it for 5 seconds. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Chest and back

Doorway or wall corner stretches are one of my favorites because they are so easy to do. Form a 90 degrees angle between forearm and elbow and place that arm at a wall corner or in a doorway. Now lean gently into it until you get a good stretch in the chest.

Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder blades (rhomboids) will make it much easier to hold your shoulders in a nice and relaxed position.

Grab a light resistance band with straight arms in front of you at about shoulder width. Your grip should be a locked fist with thumbs pointing towards each other.

Now pull the band with straight arms until you are forming a T with your arms and the band is at your chest. While pulling the band slowly rotate your shoulders externally so your thumbs are pointing backward at the end of the movement.

You can watch this video by Jeff from AthleanX demonstrating the movement.

Need Some Extra Help?

Maintaining good posture is hard work and especially tricky when it includes breaking old slouching habits. One way to make it easier is by giving your sore and overworked muscles some good massage. You could visit a masseuse or you could try out one of these popular massage devices that look like a repurposed power tool.

Although they have been around for a while, it seems like they have exploded in popularity over the past year. I feel like I am seeing them everywhere now.

There are many different great brands to choose from. In my opinion, the two brands I have reviewed here are among the best.

Conclusion

Poor posture is a problem on an epidemic scale affecting millions of people from all age groups. The excessive use of mobile phones and laptops, along with the sedentary lifestyle are the main culprits.

While you might not be bothered today with your frequent phone and laptop use and poor posture, you will be forming poor postural habits that will eventually have negative effects on your body.

But the good news is that it can be prevented! Do not wait for the problems to manifest before you do something about it. Follow the steps I have laid out here and your future self will thank you for the changes you made today!

Guest Author: Marcus

Marcus runs the site Strengthery where he likes to write mostly about weight training, weight loss, and other health-related topics. He prefers a balancing approach to health and fitness where the amount of effort needs a corresponding gain in order to be worth it. He is also a massage junkie.

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