Rishi Loatey, chiropractor with the British Chiropractic Association, offers his advice for looking after your back health when using technology
Advances in technology and the convenience of connectivity have made it increasingly difficult for many of us to switch off from our tech. Brits, both young and old, are now sending emails, checking social media channels and browsing the web, all the while hunched over laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other portable devices. However, spending hours attached to tech can result in us sitting in an unhealthy position with our spine unsupported for long periods of time.
This trend is supported by the latest research findings from the BCA, which show that smartphones and tablets can trigger back pain for around 20% of people, whilst 35% of people with back pain reported that they experience pain after using a laptop or desktop computer. And, whilst a significant proportion of Brits with back pain think it is aggravated by using technology, only 27% of back pain sufferers have limited the time they spend on these devices.
Pain might creep up on you after using your portable devices, as when looking down at a mobile device for a prolonged period your head is often held forwards and downwards, putting increased pressure on the neck and building up tension in the muscles. When using these devices for a period of time, I recommend positioning them upright in front of you ideally with the screen at eye level, resting your arms on a surface if you can.
And, although it might be difficult to avoid using a computer with work or study obligations, there are measures you can take to reduce the pressure on your posture when you are surfing the web.
If using a computer or laptop, it should be set up before use to reduce the pressure put on your body. Both the chair and computer should be adjusted to ensure you’re are sitting in the optimum position. Your feet should be flat and there ideally should be room for your legs to move. Sit with your hips slightly higher than your knees, sitting right back in your chair so your whole spine is supported. A good desk chair should have adjustable arm rests which allow you to rest your arms with your elbows at desk-height.
Make sure the top of your screen is level with your eyes – if it’s not, a stand, books or a ream of printer paper can elevate to a comfortable height. Desktop machines are generally set up to provide a healthier position however, if using a laptop, plugging in a standard mouse and keyboard can also help to improve your posture when you’re working.
Essentially, try to focus on the position your body is in and adapt your tech to meet the most natural and comfortable position you can achieve.
More generally sitting for long periods of time in front of any kind of screen can lead to problems in your back and I recommend standing and moving around at least every 30-40 minutes. Trying exercises when sat at your device, such as buttock clenches and shoulder shrugs can also be beneficial to keep the nerves and muscles stimulated.
If you’re suffering from aches and pains after periods of technology, gentle stretching exercises and light exercise are positive ways to counteract any tension built up over the course of the day. The British Chiropractic Association’s Straighten Up UK programme offers a number of short routines for both children and adults to help improve posture, strength and flexibility in the spine. Try building the three minute exercise programme into your daily routine to help make sure your tech habits don’t hinder your health.