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Smartphone Ergonomics: Here's how to protect your neck, back, and hands

Oct 27, 2017 04:03PM ● By The Hood Magazine
By: Jeff Roach

There are now two billion smartphone users worldwide. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately three-fourths (77%) of US adults say they own a smartphone.  With more people now owning a smartphone, along with increased use of the devices for both work and leisure activities, it is not surprising to see ergonomic issues develop.

The most common issues include muscle strain from awkward neck flexion and rounded posture, repetitive and awkward motion of one or both thumbs, and awkward static wrist posture. Also, design trends of larger phones with larger screens have added risk for thumb overuse due to the increased distance the thumbs need to travel.

The science of ergonomics considers both the mental and physical capabilities of people when designing products. In the case of smartphone usage, problems can arise when people demand a better experience with screen size, but still want the functionality of a hand held mobile device. At a certain point, the size of the average human hand will not properly match the size of the smartphone being demanded.       

To better manage these ergonomic issues, some tips are included below to help prevent pain or injury from using smartphones.            

Tips to Avoid Injury

●        To improve neck and back posture, hold the smartphone near chest level rather than waist level.  This should help to maintain the natural curves in the spine and reduce neck flexion.

●        Avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. This can cause upper back and neck strain.

●        Holding the phone to your ear with your hand can also cause fatigue so use a Bluetooth headset instead.

●        Vary the way the smartphone is held and alternate between using the thumbs and the fingers when tapping. 

●        Follow the same advice for those with sitting jobs – take breaks and change positions.

●        Use a protective case that improves grip, which can decrease grip forces.

●        Keep the wrists straight when holding and tapping. 

●        Use features including predictive text or auto complete tools to reduce typing or tapping frequency.

●        Choose a smartphone that fits your hands properly. 

●        For those who need to occasionally use their smartphone one handed, make sure you can hold the phone securely and still be able to tap with the thumb on all tap targets without strain. 

Also, always be aware of your surroundings when using your smartphone when walking. We have all seen video of people walking into traffic, into poles, or falling into pools. Don’t be the next smartphone fail on YouTube. 

Jeff Roach, MS, OTR/L, CEES, is an occupational therapist and a member of the South Dakota Occupational Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association. He is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS.

To see a graphic representation of the evolution of technology adoption and usage, Click here: