Is Your Smart Phone Use Leading To This?

HYANNIS – Have you taken a tumble lately? Is your back or neck aching? Do you find it difficult touching your toes after a long day working on your computer? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to work on your posture.

When posture is neglected, it can lead to pain, injury and a variety of other health issues, said Karen Anderson, a physical therapist at Cape Cod Healthcare’s outpatient clinic.

It can even affect the way others perceive you. A few years ago there was an article in Psychology Today that described poor posture as being one of the non-verbal cues violent criminals look for in a potential victim.

Conversely, walk into a job interview with your shoulders back and head held high, and the message conveyed is one of confidence.

So, there is a lot at risk when posture is poor. Even though we all can benefit from standing up straight, there are certain groups who are in greater danger than others.

Who is at risk for injury due to poor posture?

Elderly folks are particularly vulnerable to falls associated with poor posture.

“Being stooped forward introduces balance issues, which can lead to falls,” said Anderson. “It’s a challenge, especially when you have anatomical issues like osteoporosis.”

Falling can result in serious injuries, and could lead to a loss of living independently.

One of the main reasons Anderson sees her elderly patients is because of issues related to poor posture.

“Poor posture leads to improper mechanics and a loss of flexibility. When you are slouching, or stooped over, mobility gets restricted. Limited ability to reach with your arms can impinge the shoulder and neck muscles, resulting in pain,” said Anderson.

And for people with breathing issues, compression of the chest area due to slouching or stooping can exacerbate poor lung function.

“Good posture promotes improved lung expansion so it’s better for breathing and taking a deep breath. It also improves your swallowing. When you are up straight, these functions aren’t impeded and allows for a more direct route,” said Anderson.

Seniors aren’t the only ones who can benefit from standing up straight.

Look around you and it won’t take long to notice someone engrossed in his or her phone. The gains of constant connectedness have come at the expense of good posture. So much so that there are new names for it, “phone gaze” and “text neck.” Both of these conditions put undo stress on the neck and spine, as the head is tilted forward carrying its full weight in an unnatural position for potentially long periods of time.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this type of injury, considering the amount of time they spend on their phones.

“We see patients who have developed neck and/or shoulder pain from thrusting their heads forward with a slouched back, or sitting in bed while using their laptops or smart phones,” said Anderson. “Our fascination with technology is a cautionary tale.”

And with the added weight, pregnant women and school children carrying heavy backpacks are at particular risk for injury or falls due to the changes in their balance, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

How can you improve your posture?

Like any learned habit, anyone can improve his or her posture with regular practice.

Here are a few tips from Karen Anderson:

  • Perform a head to toe posture check in the mirror to check for proper alignment. That means looking to see that your chin, shoulders, hips and feet are all stacked right underneath each other.
  • Engaging your abdominal muscles is an important part of standing up straight. If your core strength is weak, then do exercises to strengthen these muscles.
  • Be aware of repetitive things that affect posture, like lifting heavy objects and sitting at a computer desk for long periods of time without moving.
  • When reaching for things, keep your shoulders down and back and only reach within a comfortable range. This will prevent neck strain and shoulder impingement
  • Consider balance training, especially if you have anatomical issues like osteoporosis.

“Some people may feel it is futile to address posture issues, however every person, no matter how bad their posture may be, can make changes to improve their comfort and function,” said Anderson. “Every person is able to make some improvement, no matter how small.”

By CLAUDIA DOLHIN, Cape Cod Health News

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