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What your smartphone is doing to your body?

12 December 2017

How much time do you think you spend on your phone during an average day? An hour? Maybe 90 minutes?

How about two and a half hours? According to research, that’s how long the average person spends looking at their smartphone every day.

Our US cousins have even been known to exceed the five-hour mark and our other halves are getting pretty sick of it, with a recent Deloitte survey revealing that two-fifths of respondents in a relationship think their partner uses their phone too much.

More than three-quarters of over-18s describe themselves as smartphone users, according to Ofcom figures, while only one in 20 British adults don’t own a mobile phone.

Our smartphones can do so much that it’s often hard to get by without them. They’re not just for checking our timelines and firing off emojis, they help us in a professional capacity too with more than half of us are using our smartphone for at least one work-related activity.

However, this over-reliance on our phone is most likely to be having a silent, near-undetectable effect on our posture and physical wellbeing and here, we’re going to highlight how and where.

The spine

Think about how you compose the upper third of your body when you look at your phone. In almost every case, the neck will be bent forward with the head hovering over the phone.

If you saw anyone walking down the street with a perfectly straight spine, one arm aloft holding their smartphone with their eyes looking horizontal dead ahead, you may think something was up.

Perfect posture naturally goes out the window when we whip out our phones and the spine is what takes the brunt of the burden.

The spine is made up of 33 bones but for a moment think of these as individual blocking blocks. If a tower of single blocks was bent forward, it would compress on one side while on the opposite side, the bricks would pull away from each other, creating gaps. Now stick something heavy on top of that tower and the stress on the structure is magnified.

Compared to the strength of the spine, the head is heavy, and if the spine is leaning to one side for two hours a day, 14 hours a week, 728 hours a year, this creates a significant amount of curvature in the spine that can lead to degenerative spine disorders such as spondylolisthesis.

Aside from the actual bones, this constant stress means changes in the soft tissue around the spine. Muscles at the front of the spine will shorten while those on the back of the spine will stretch. Over time, the muscles will grow accustomed to this position and they’ll become what is called locked long and locked short.

This can lead to loss of strength, postural control and endurance, which can be the cause of lower back pain, as well as a massive imbalance as the body naturally adopts a hunched stance.

The lungs

That hunched posture leads us nicely into our second area: the lungs.

With the body leant over a smartphone the torso is compressed, which restricts how much physical space is available to the lungs. Squashed-in lungs naturally mean lower oxygen intake, which forces the lungs to work harder, resulting in you getting tired or fatigued in a much shorter space of time.

Because the body responds habitually, the lungs will eventually adapt and get used to this shorter and quicker breathing pattern. The end result is that getting tired quicker will become a fact of life.

Stress

Another reason not to crane over your phone for a significant chunk of time is that it can create stress on the connective tissue that wraps around your entire head.

Look at your shirt. If you pull the top-left shoulder, the bottom left of the shirt follows and this principal is how the tissue around your whole body and head works.

This can lead to migraines and headaches, as well as an exacerbated quality of sleep.

Sleep

Some people love to sleep almost as much as they love their smartphone. Sadly, the two don’t really compliment each other.

That’s because using a smartphone so close to going to sleep potentially exposes your eyes to bright blue light that can impact sleep quality and could even cause permanent damage to your eyes.

Research from Deloitte found that almost four in five of us (79 per cent) look at our phone less than an hour before going to sleep, which isn’t good.

Younger generations are seemingly more addicted. In terms of 16 to 24-year olds, 44 per cent will check their phone within five minutes of preparing to sleep, while two-thirds of 16 to 19-year olds will wake in the middle of the night to check for messages.

Whatever that message says, it almost certainly won’t be worth disrupting your sleep for, because aside from the effect on sleep quality, it can also impair your memory the next day, making it harder to learn. Some evidence suggests that the blue light from your smartphone could harm your eyes’ retina over time and possibly lead to cataracts.

In the long term, this low grade sleep you’ve been getting can lead to a build up of neurotoxin, creating a vicious cycle that means it’ll be even harder to get a good night’s sleep.

How Spire Nottingham can help

Many of the negative effects associated with poor posture can take the bulk of a lifetime to surface and as such, addressing them won’t be an overnight thing.

Just as the body has slowly adapted to the stresses and strains put on the spine and other areas, reversing them can take months.

Spine

A Spire physiotherapist would begin to correct poor posture by assessing the patient’s spinal function, muscle length and tension and monitoring mobility.

After that, they’d move on to motor control and observe how you sit, stand, walk, step up, and then check your strength, keeping a sharp eye out for any imbalance.

Once this groundwork is in place, the Spire physiotherapist would consider options for relieving symptoms, such as massage, acupuncture, mobilisations, as well as prescribe a home exercise programme.

Fixing spinal problems isn’t as easy as attending a few short sessions, and you’ll have to put in the time at home and employ lifestyle habits by adjusting how you sit whilst driving, for example. Many of these measures are employed for muscle stress issues too.

Breathing

When addressing any breathing issues caused by poor posture, a Spire professional would assess how you breathe, counting breaths per minute in various positions: sitting, standing and lying.

As with the spine, adopting the correct posture is key and over time, the lungs would naturally grow into the extra space and breathing would become more spaced out and even.

It’s a long game too, you probably shouldn’t expect any change for six to eight weeks. However, the team at Spire would be able to make the body consciously competent, typically within six months.

Bad posture doesn't have to cause you pain, thanks to our physio experts.

Sleep

This one comes down to routine and how you wind down before heading off to bed.

Consider how you would put a toddler to sleep. The key to getting a two-year old off to sleep is try to maintain a regular schedule. Around 6pm, you’d give them a bath. Less than an hour later, you’d snuggle down to read a book. Then by about 7.30pm, you’re tucking them into bed.

You need to adopt a similar approach for yourself, albeit without your phone. If you plan to be asleep by 11pm, professionals advise that you put the phone down for the night by about 7pm. Do everything you need to do before that time and you’ll minimise how much disruption is caused by blue light.

Prevention

Changes to your everyday lifestyle can mean that many of these problems won’t even develop, and ‘change’ is the key here. If you’re doing one task like being sat at a desk from nine to five, shake things up. Use an eye level monitor if possible and if there’s the option to work standing up, even better.

Rather than sit at your desk during your lunch break, take a brisk walk around the block for 20 minutes. When nature calls, consider using the toilet furthest away from your desk. Being active will go along way to ensuring back problems don’t bother you further down the line.

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