Technology and Poor Posture: Your Daily Habits are Putting Your Health at Risk.
According to Pewinternet.org 64% of American adults own a type of smart phone and 15% of those aged 18-29 report being “heavily independent” on a smartphone for internet access (Smith, 2015). On top of it, people spend an average of 2-4 hours a day hunched over on their smart phones. But, phones are not the only items causing bad posture; computers are equal culprits as well. With over 100 million adults in the United States working desk jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics), work-related neck and back pain is very common. In one study (Green, 2008), the prevalence of neck pain increase from 17% to 28% from 1989 to 1996, and it is only increasing as computer use increases. Also, work-related musculoskeletal disorders were projected to cost more than $45 billion annually (Green, 2008). This may require our workforce to adjust its practices to help promote healthy work environments for those who are sitting at computers all day.
Side effects of poor posture (Savoie, 2012; Sherwood, 2015; Hansraj, 2014):
- Change in spinal curve; prevents spine from being able to naturally absorb shock and maintain balance.
- Poor digestion; due to compression of internal organs from over-slouching.
- Back pain
- Cervical and spinal disc degeneration
- Varicose veins; due to poor circulation.Sore muscles; tightness and fatigue.
- Nerve constriction.
While it is almost impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, it is important to recognize the significance of slouching and the irreversible damage we may be causing to our bodies. Dr. Keneth Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon in New York, performed a study to assess the forces seen by the cervical spine as the head is tilted forward. What he found was that the weight seen by the spine increases when the head tilts forward at varying degrees. An adult head weighs approximately 10lbs in a neutral position. He found that the forces seen by the neck increase to 27lbs at 15 degrees, 40lbs at 30 degrees, and 60lbs at 60 degrees. This extra stress can increase the amount of wear and tear seen by the muscles and tendons in your neck and shoulders, as well as the forces experienced by the cartilage in the spine. Eventually, your spine and back will be unable to support the weight of your upper body and you may be permanently hunched over, without correction, or you can develop arthritis in your back and neck.
The physics behind his calculations is quite simple. Dr. Hansraj incorporates many factors, most importantly angle, but by looking at the muscle most responsible for extension, semispinalis capitis (left figure below), and simplifying the problem it is easy to perform your own calculations. In the neutral position, the distance of the center of mass of the head from the fulcrum, the atlanto-occipital joint, is approximately 2.5cm or 1 inch. The semispinalis capitis muscle attaches at the base of the occipital bone which is approximately 2 to 3 times that distance. For simplicity, go with about 2x or 5cm.
This is a class 1 lever and the force (F) exerted by the muscle can be found by summing the moments about the lever. In physics, a non-moving object balances forces on either side of a pivot point causing the total moments about the pivot to be zero. When there is an imbalance on either side, like a seesaw, the object will rotate about the pivot point. So for simplifying the math, we assume the object is not rotating about the pivot, and its moment is zero.
Again, this is an extremely simplified version, but it can be shown that the force on this single muscle in the neck does increase dramatically as the skull extends forward. When you start to consider all of the muscles involved in the neck and shoulders, it is easy to see why we experience pain and subsequent poor posture. As the neck muscles are forced to engage and contract they can experience fatigue over time and even encounter possible injury from over stimulation. Also, these neck muscles are also connected to other parts of the body. Some extend around the neck and pull on the sternum and some reach down over the shoulders and attach to the scapula. The contraction of these muscles will cause the adjacent body parts to react and may appear to reposition to compensate for the added load. One example is the sternocleidomastoid muscle which attaches from the back of the neck to the clavicle and sternum. When this muscle contracts, shortens, it pulls on the sternum. In reaction the shoulders will roll forward to relieve some of this tension. As the shoulders move forward the attached trapezius muscle will pull on portions of the back and this continues throughout the body. Any extra tension over time can lead to back pain and “tight” muscles.
To begin correcting the poor posture created by this technological environment in which we live, we have to take many necessary steps. Begin by looking to improve your posture.
- Looking at your phone or computer with a neutral spine. Most computer set-ups are incorrect and cause us to tense and slouch throughout the work day
- oCheck your posture throughout the day. Maybe every 30 minutes to start. There are even apps designed to utilize your webcam to help correct your posture throughout the day.
- oSet-up your work station or adjust the height of your chair to promote better posture. There is an interesting tool available which tells you how to set-up your workstations base on your height to promote good posture. http://www.ergotron.com/tools/workspace-planner
- Develop good stretching and exercise practices
- o Yoga and Pilates are great tools to help begin re-strengthening and stretching those tight shoulders.
- o Talk to your doctor or physical therapist for simple things you can do at home.
- o Vibration exercisers, etc..
- Back and shoulder bracing to correct posture.
- Posture pumps or traction equipment to stretch out the neck area.
- Seat cushions which adjust posture
Overall, it is up to each individual to continue to practice good posture and improve their own health. Treatment decisions to improve posture must be made on an individual basis and may rely on expert opinions. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. It is important to seek advice from a physician if chronic pain occurs and before starting any medical treatments or exercise programs.
- 1.Green, B.N. (2008). A literature review of neck pain associated with computer use: public health implications. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 52(3), 161-167.
- 2.Hansraj, K.K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International. 25, 277-279.
- 3.Savoie, K. (2012). 7 weird ways your posture messes with you. Prevention Magazine.
- 4.Sherwood, C. (2015). Negative effects of poor posture. http://www.livestrong.com/article/31223-negative-...
- 5.Smith, A. (2015). U.S. smartphone use in 2015. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartpho...
- 6.Weller, C. (2014). Texting puts puts 50 pounds of pressure on your spine, adding to poor posture’s side effects. http://www.medicaldaily.com/texting-puts-50-pound...