Smartphones – Just how smart are they for our body?

Back in 2008 there was a flurry of media around the phenomenon of “Blackberry Thumb”, a syndrome which presented as pain in both thumbs, often radiating up the forearms, accompanied with restriction in the shoulder and neck.



Is it any wonder we suffer as a result of these not-so-smart gadgets? We spend a lot of time looking at screens! In fact, according to Millward Brown’s 2014 AdReaction Report into consumer behaviour, for the average Australian: 132 minutes are spent on smartphones, 125 minutes on TV, 102 minutes on a laptop and 37 minutes on a tablet!According to a similar 2012 BBC report, almost 19 billion messages were sent per day using chat apps and 17.6 billion SMS messages….that’s a lot of thumb-tapping.

As a Remedial Therapist, over the years I have treated huge numbers of clients who present with RSI injuries and postural issues related to desk work. The adage has become “Sitting is the New Smoking”.

But nowadays we effectively take our sitting desk with us – having a smart phone with all of our email/files/appointments accessible all day, everyday.

Joshua Samuel who presented a study at HWWE 2013, International Conference on Ergonomics and Human Factors, studied 59 subjects who reported pain and musculoskeletal problems related to the use of their hand-held device, and revealed the following important features:

  • Among them, around 49% were using touch screen smart phones while 35% were using the Blackberry.
  • Right side was affected more (58%) compared to left side (20%) and bilateral (22%).
  • Common symptoms: Pain in thumb and forearm with associated burning; Numbness & tingling around thenar aspect of hand; stiffness of wrist and hand.

The human head weighs on average around 5kg. That is 5kg of weight and pressure on our spine when sitting with our head directly over our cervical spine (neck). Now, for every inch that our head moves forward, that pressure doubles. If you take the time to look around at our fellow smartphone users you will see that they adopt the head tilted, face down position to stare longingly at SMS messages and cat videos for many minutes at a time! This is putting many kilograms of pressure on our poor struggling neck, which can lead to stiffness, tension headaches and pore postural habits.

Acknowledging all of this, I have to say, I love my phone! Smartphones are an important part of our modern lives, providing us with ease of communication with out loved ones and swift access to important knowledge. I think we can continue to love our smartphones whilst still loving our body….we just need to me smart about it:

  • Don’t become a member of the “bow head tribe”, holding your phone in your lap looking down at it – this puts a lot of pressure on your neck. Try to hold it up towards your face, reducing the load.
  • Try to peck out messages with multiple fingers (ie; typing) rather than using solely your thumbs.
  • For tasks which require you to spend prolonged periods of time at your phone or tablet, ensure you have established a comfortable working space which supports your spine.
  • Now, lets be honest – whilst we would all love to attest to the fact the majority of our time on our phone is spent scouring appointment requests, quote confirmations, literary masterpieces and well-researched international journalism, I think it would be fair to say we all get swept up in social media and mindless scrolling. Ask yourself, is this the best thing I could be doing right now? And close that Pinterest board of how to build a lego bath for your cat. Now!
  • Take breaks! Try these Apps which help you to take breaks and check in on how much time you are spending on your little brain-sucker: Breakfree, StayOnTask, AppDetox
  • Get moving! The best thing you can do for your body, mind and soul is to keep your neck, shoulders and arms moving.
  • Get bodywork! Remedial Massage, Acupuncture and Chiropractic are great ways to help manage musculoskeletal pain and stiffness. These practitioners can also provide you with individualised programs to stretch and strengthen – so you can be the most efficient, comfortable facebook addict, ever!

Sarah Clarity Massage and Wellness Centre on Melbourne Street in North Adelaide, South Australia. The highly skilled Clarity Team provide Remedial Massage, Acupuncture and Naturopathic services. Check out more about how they can help you be your best self at:


Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Upper Extremities Due to Extensive Usage of Hand Held Devices

Deepak Sharan1*, Mathankumar Mohandoss2, Rameshkumar Ranganathan2 and Jeena Jose2

Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2014, 26:22

Gustafsson E., Johnson P.W. Hagberg M. Thumb postures and physical loads during

mobile phone use – A comparison of young adults with and without musculoskeletal

symptoms. J Electromyography and Kinesiology (2009),

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