Laptops and Cellphones: Ways To Prevent Neck and Back Pain During the Work Day
Now more than ever, people are utilizing their phones and laptops for both work and for play. This has caused increased strain on the neck and back during the day that can lead to chronic pain, headaches, shoulder issues, and other problems. This post will work to discuss the abnormal mechanics that develop, as well as how to treat them and prevent any significant issues from developing.
Part 1: Identifying Abnormal Positions.
When working to treat conditions related to the head and neck that develop from chronic overuse it is important to identify where the problems are coming from. When at a desk, working on a laptop, and looking at a cellphone all day abnormal postural alignment can begin to develop. This can include a rounding of the shoulders, tightening of the anterior chest musculature, increased kyphotic hump at the thoracic spine and other problems. A recent article in Digital Trends online publication reported that Americans on average spend about 4.7 hours on their phone each day. This coupled with a normal 8 hour workday at a desk working on either a laptop or desktop indicates that you could spend over 12 hours on an electronic device throughout the day. CBS News identified what they call a cellphone hunch which is leading to abnormal head posture the longer you spend on your mobile device. That coupled with the weight of your head can lead to significant strain on the mid to lower back resulting in pain or discomfort.
It is important to keep this in mind when trying to make alterations to your work space to help function throughout the day.
Part 2: Setting Yourself Up for Success
There are a few quick changes you can make to your daily routine that will have an immediate effect on posture that will set you up for long term benefits and stop the abnormal strain on your back.
- Reduce screen time - Limiting the amount of time spent on non-work related activities that are in front of a computer or on your cell phone. This can include social media, watching videos and other activities.
- When you are working at a desk or on your phone is to remind yourself to sit up right and bring the device to you. Avoiding the “slump” that we are all familiar with.
- Standing up and taking regular breaks is also a huge benefit to making it through the day without causing abnormal strain. Performing some light stretching, walking, or changing positions even will help mitigate some of the damage.
- A critical component is how your workspace is set up, especially for laptop users. The biggest challenge is having a keyboard attached to a screen, and avoiding looking down. The best recommendation is to purchase a secondary keyboard that will allow you to look at the computer screen but keep your arms at an appropriate level.
Part 3: Exercises to Prevent Further Injury
So now that you have identified the issues and properly set up your workspace to allow you to begin to heal, it is important to follow-up with exercises to increase your ability to tolerate seated positions without discomfort. Below you will find several stretches and exercises that will help strengthen your back but are also easy enough to perform either at home or in the office.
Maintaining armpits and elbows at 90 deg gently fall through the door until a stretch is felt throughout the chest, hold for 30 seconds, 3 times.
Upper Trap Stretch:
While standing upright, keeping one hand behind your back, gently lean your head away from the arm that is behind your back until a mild to moderate stretch is felt. The stretch can be increased if you use one hand to gently provide overpressure at the head, hold for 30 seconds, 3 times.
* This stretch can be modified to be performed in seated as well *
While seated or standing keeping the head and eyes level use the muscles in the back of your neck to retract your chin and stretch/strengthen the muscles in the posterior aspect of the neck.
Keep in mind to avoid tilting your head up or down upon retraction of the chin.
While standing or sitting and maintaining your chin tucks retract both shoulder blades down and across your back, almost like you are tucking them into your back pockets. This engages the back muscles to counteract some of the tightness in the chest.
In conclusion, the amount of time that we are spending on our computers, cellphones, and other technology is drastically impacting our posture. This can lead to several issues at the neck, shoulders, and lower back and needs to be addressed appropriately. Correctly modifying your work environment, taking breaks during the work day, and performing the appropriate stretches and strengthening exercises can dramatically help any functional deficits you are experiencing. If you have any further questions or want to come in for a more detailed assessment as to how Physical Therapy can help please feel free to call any one of Exchange Physical Therapy Group’s locations in Weehawken, Jersey City, and our newest office in Hoboken.