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Kenneth Au-Yeung

3 tips on how smartphone users can avoid neck pain through posture

BY KENNETH AU-YEUNG

According to the Office of the Communications Authority, the penetration rates of household broadband and mobile phones in Hong Kong in September 2012 were about 87% and 223%1 respectively, among the highest in the world.

The popularity of smartphone has not only been impacting our lifestyle, but also our health.

Recently the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Hong Kong Physiotherapy Association have jointly conducted a study on the health effects of using smartphones and portable electronic devices among Hong Kong people.

The results showed that, out of the 465 adults surveyed, the average time spending on smartphone were up to 7 hours daily, 70% of them have reported musculoskeletal symptoms in different parts of the body in relation to the use of electronic devices2.

There is a significant association among time spent on mobile device and neck pain. For adults, the head can weigh more than 10 pounds. That is 10 pounds of pressure on the spine when the head is directly over the neck.

But for every inch the head moves forward, the pressure doubles. The way most of us slouch over our smartphones, poking chin, round shoulders, can measure up to 30 pounds of pressure on the neck.

The stress over the cervical and thoracic spine will definitely increase, as well as the tension along the muscles and ligaments surrounding the neck.

It is true that resting can relieve neck and shoulder pain as the result of bad smartphone usage posture, but only in the beginning stages. If you carry on this habit, persistent neck pain and muscle tightness will build up.

You will find it difficult to relieve the symptoms, no matter how long you rest. So should you give up your smartphone?

Thankfully, you don't have to give up your little addictions. What you need to do is to adjust the way you use your devices. Indeed, prevention is always the best solution.

Firstly, you must not look at your phone with your head tilted down. You may try to get used to holding it a little higher, closer to eye level, so your neck can stay straight as it's supposed to be.

There are even apps that can tell you, via lights, beeps, or vibrations, that you are holding your smartphone too low while using it.

Secondly, keep the spine erect, the neck straight, and the head directly above the neck and the ear above the shoulders. It may be tough for your arms and shoulders, but it’s easier for your neck. Your arms can take the stress, not your neck.

Thirdly, for tasks that take longer than a few minutes (such as writing or graphic design), it will be better to use a PC or a mounted tablet. That way you can sit up straight while getting your work done.

Besides you should mobilize your neck and shoulder every 30-45mins when you are using the smartphone.
If your neck pain cannot be relieved by rest, you would better seek advice from your doctor or physiotherapist for possible treatments; learn relevant stretching exercises, or other postural correction advice.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Kenneth Au-Yeung

Kenneth Au-Yeung

Kenneth Au-Yeung is a Registered Physiotherapist at Healing Hands Physiotherapy Centre. He has been interviewed by different TV shows and magazines for more than 80 times. He has a special interest in East-meets-West approach and now is an experienced acupuncturist and a Tai Chi for Arthritis Instructor.

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