Understanding the long term effects of tablet and cell phone use

Human Growth and Development = Biological Science. Cell Phone and Tablet Use = Computer Science. It’s a classic example of how two sciences moving at different evolutionary speeds can sometimes not keep pace with each other and cause musculoskeletal disorders. Physiologically, our bodies have not had time to adapt to our changes in everyday tasks, something complicated by the fact that device evolution is still in its infancy. Some day we will find the balance between technological advancements and physiological need, but until that future arrives, here are some tips to avoid discomfort in our digitally connected age.

  1. Chair – Find a more comfortable chair if possible, but more importantly, sit in a posture that encourages you to maintain the natural S shape of your back. Avoid slouching on a couch and leaving your device in your lap, as this could cause neck and low back discomfort.
  2. Walking – We are now putting our bodies at risk of slips, trips, falls, and neck discomfort when we walk and talk, text, scroll, tweet, etc. Its really easy with most devices to get a low-cost headset and use talk to text features. Consider waiting to check your texts and emails until you are not physically moving.
  3. Driving – Laws in many regions make cell phone use illegal when driving. It can be more dangerous than drunk driving. This is partially due to the awkward postures you put yourself in to operate a vehicle while holding a device. Hands free, voice activated controls or simply turning your devices to airplane mode while driving are the way to go.
  4. Take a Break – Years of evidence from sedentary work indicates we need micro breaks every 30-60 minutes. Evidence shows that any task handheld devices requiring more than 5-10 minutes at a time is more appropriate on a desktop (or at least a laptop) than a handheld device.
  5. Eye Strain – The backlight on your device should mimic the natural lighting you are in. Avoid using your devices in total dark, which increases the amount our eyes have to work to balance the light. Consider adjusting the brightness of your small screen to more accurately mimic your environment and turn on a secondary light when it is dark. Again, taking a break from focusing on a small screen for prolonged periods will reduce eye strain. Android users may want to consider using the Twilight app to dim or turn off their screen’s backlight before bed in the evening.
  6. Disconnect – A growing number of successful CEO’s have grasped this concept. Several blogs this year highlight that successful people turn their phone to airplane during certain times of the day (like when they get home from work) so they can’t even be tempted to use the device.
  7. Exercise – Using small devices for prolonged periods of the day puts us in a forward flexed position with our neck, shoulders and back. Your body needs to counteract those positions. So when you disconnect, take time to open yourself back up and do exercises that extend your muscles. EWI Works has just launched a great office stretching course that counteracts the effects of prolonged office work. These exercises also work great to counter the effects of handheld device use. Click here to access Office Stretching.

The bottom line is, we are just beginning to understand the long-term effects of using small devices close to your body. Thankfully, human anatomy and the principles of ergonomics still apply.  Neutral postures, avoiding static work, limiting use, and regular exercise are great ways to counter the musculoskeletal effects of prolonged cell phone use.

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