September 8, 2015 11:04 am

4 ways your digital gadgets are ruining your body

A file photo of a Samsung tablet.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Koji Sasahara
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Your thumb and wrist are throbbing, your eyes are bloodshot and you’re pretty sure you have “text neck.” Sitting hunched over and tapping away at your smart phone comes with its share of consequences.

“I’m often seeing people with a lot of neck and shoulder pain and it’s mainly because of bad posture they have when they’re using their devices, especially when it comes to smart phones and tablets,” says Dr. Katherine Tibor, a chiropractor and spokesperson for the Ontario Chiropractic Association.

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Tibor and Dr. Sophia Da Silva are even seeing patients as young as eight years old, adolescents and teenagers.

“It’s leading to increased stress, force and weight on structures in your body that aren’t designed to maintain these sustained postures,” Da Silva told Global News. She’s a Toronto-based chiropractor at Kew Garden Health Group.

READ MORE: Baby steps — 6-month-olds are using smartphones, tablets, study suggests

Here are four ways your smart phones, laptops and tablets are wrecking your body.

Text neck: The poor posture from looking at your smart phone starts with your head bowed over as you look down onto your lap to study your phone or by your waist as you’re walking and texting.

The result? You feel a tightness in your shoulders and in the back of your neck.

“Most people will say it’s stiffness and toughness and a dull ache they have. Others feel a pain that spreads past their shoulders into their arms,” Tibor described.

READ MORE: Why your smartphone is wreaking havoc on your back

Tibor uses this analogy: Imagine a tree with a heavy bag hanging off of a single tree branch. The branch will start sagging with the bag’s hefty weight. That’s your neck propping up your head as you hunch over while playing Angry Birds.

Sore upper and lower back: As your roll forward through your shoulders, you’re relying on your pectoral muscles and accentuating the curve in your back.

Too much hunching forward through the upper back will affect your lower back, too, along with all of the muscles that follow your spine.

READ MORE: Sit up teens! How slouching leads to posture problems

“Your spine and your body have to support the weight of your head and if you’re in a proper posture, your body is adapted to withstand that stress. When you’re looking down and tilting your head forward, you’re increasing stress in the neck, upper back and lower back,” Da Silva warned.

Shooting pain in your wrist and forearm: You’re probably guilty of clutching onto your smart phone as you walk from point A to point B throughout the day. That grip, for extended periods of time, isn’t good for your wrist and your forearms because they’re constantly flexed or bent instead of relaxed.

“You’re using your bicep and forearm to cradle handheld devices and it’s an added weight. I’ve got people coming in because of elbow pain, and wrist and forearm pain from squeezing onto their iPhone,” Tibor warned.

READ MORE: First the ‘BlackBerry thumb,’ now ‘smartphone face’

“Some people will complain that it’s almost bruised or a shooting pain. It’s that constant repetitive pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves in that area as well,” Tibor described.

If you’re using your device, make sure you keep a neutral wrist so it isn’t flipped backwards or dropped forwards either. You’re tightening your muscles that control the wrist and if it’s held in contraction for too long, or used too much, you’ll get a repetitive strain injury, the experts say.

A throbbing thumb tapping away: Tiny muscles located in your hand control your thumb as you type away on your smart phone’s miniature keyboard.

The notion of a “BlackBerry thumb” came about from too much texting, swiping and scrolling.

“It’s a repetitive stress and force with a structure that isn’t designed to work in that manner. Humans have opposable thumbs for gripping and grasping but when you have a repetitive movement on a small screen, you’re straining tendons in your thumb, and that’ll cause inflammation from overuse,” Da Silva said.

Eye strain from looking at tiny text: The text on a screen is not as sharp as on a page and this forces us to strain our eyes when we’re focusing. If you’re sitting in front of the computer screen with breaks in between to look at your smart phone, it’s no wonder the muscles in your eyes are strained.

“There’s a muscle in the eye called the ciliary muscle and we use them to help our eyes focus on short or near distances. Holding that muscle contracted for hours can make us tired,” says Dr. Radhika Chawla, chair of the children’s vision committee at the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

Each minute, we typically blink about 18 times, but when we’re zeroing in on the computer screen, we don’t blink as much causing our eyes to dry out. Blurry, foggy vision, headaches, twitching eyelids along with cramped muscles are the fallout.

How to recover from too much time on your smart phone:

  1. Take breaks: Da Silva tells her patients to set an alarm for every 30 minutes on their phones to stretch, move around and then get back to work on their phones, laptops and tablets.
  2. Hold your phone at eye level: Whenever you can, try to look at your device without having to hunch over or tilt your head down. That way, your neck doesn’t have to work overtime to prop your head up. Use voice recognition when you can.
  3. Don’t look at your screen all day: Chawla recommends the 20/20/20 rule, in which optometrists call on patients to take a break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to look away from their screen and about 20 feet ahead (or far enough that our eyes don’t have to work so hard to focus).

Keep your computer screen at about an arm’s length away, set it so that you’re looking only slightly downward at your screen and adjust text so it’s at a comfortable size. Minimize the reflective glare on your screen and don’t read your screen in a dark room.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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