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Harris & Ross-back physio

Are my tablet and smartphone a pain in the neck?

Posted on April 13th, 2015

We spend hours everyday on our smartphones and tablets, but is this changing our body and should we be thinking about our posture?

Alison Bugg, a chartered physiotherapist in our Manchester clinic says it’s becoming an increasing issue for this generation:

Alison BuggHow do you sit at your desk?…….Supportive chair? Well placed screen? Arms supported?

Now consider ……how do you sit when using your tablet or phone? We rarely apply the same requirements we have all had drilled home to us about posture when we are sat on the train or sofa for an hour using our portable device. There is a reason we don’t lie on our sides in bed with our office PC in one hand and head resting on a pillow, other than the obvious weight and size issue!

We only have to walk past a coffee chain window to see a large number of people all sat nose near to the phone in a comfy chair nearly bent double. Sitting puts twice as much pressure through our discs in the lower back as standing, so we need to recognise we are vulnerable.

As we are all spending more and more time on portable tablets and phone devices, and completing more complex tasks, such as reading of lengthy documents, the need for advice as regards posture and safe working practice comes more to the forefront.

As physiotherapists we are seeing the emergence of new causative factors when we are treating posture related neck and back pain, and more worryingly cervicogenic headaches, and forearm and wrist tendon injuries. Every swipe you do on your phone screen with your thumb can cause low levels of inflammation, which over time with high repetition can present as inflamed soft tissues and require physiotherapy intervention.

As we are seeing more and more people with posture related neck and back pain, we are finding at assessment, when we question working hours, and desk set-up, the big influencing factor is the two hour commute each day working on a tablet or phone on the train or bus, or that hour in bed before you go to sleep with your device resting on your knee just catching up on emails.

We need to be aware that our posture is important during any static activity. If you are maintaining a position for a period of time you need to ensure this a safe posture and also keep adjusting your position. People are unaware of the pressures that are placed upon the back when we maintain the same position, and the unnecessary strain this can cause. It is important to regularly change position and take a break from the activity to relieve any tension building up. Sit up straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together, stretching across the chest, rotate your neck to either side, arch your back, anything to ensure you move and readjust how you have been sat.

And don’t think using these devices standing on the platform eliminates the problems. Our neck is vulnerable and standing with chin to chest reading the latest article or gossip puts a lot of strain through the discs and muscles in the neck, this is one of the biggest causes of headaches. We are getting more and more people attending for assessment with upper limb disorders, reporting pins and needles in the forearms or hands, heaviness in the arms generally, and neck spasm and headaches.

As an emerging trend, we as physiotherapists need to recognise the large role these devices play in peoples lives, accept these symptoms don’t ‘just go away’ and try and prevent what will develop to be chronic or long term problems if not treated early enough. When treated early, we can highlight causes, offer easy advice and strategies to prevent worsening. Neck and back ache or stiffness is something most people ‘accept’ as a necessary part of work and daily life, when you are repeating the causative factor again and again over time, this becomes a learned behaviour.

That little old lady, stooped over, may not have had a tablet or phone in her evenings over the years  but did sit on the sofa slouched over her knitting, maybe she would have benefitted from some postural advice and easy exercises to have prevented the posture she has today.

If you require more information or would like to book an appointment at one of our clinics please call 0161 832 9000 or contact us via email

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