Cellphones are Hurting Us
There are plenty of reasons to put our cellphones down once in a while. For example, it’s rude to bring phones to the table while eating with your family. Also, let’s not forget the value of being present in our immediate surroundings, seeing and hearing what is happening around us, not to mention the necessities demanded by reality, such as walking across the street or driving.
However, here’s a reason to put down your phone that you might not have considered: cellphones are ruining our posture. Bad posture can start simply as a stiff neck; however, it can get far worse than that. If you’re in a public place, look around – how many people are bent or “hunching” over their phones? Technology is transforming how we hold ourselves, contorting our bodies.
Of course, the problem of hunching began with the introduction of the Internet, arriving on our computers and laptops. Today, New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August has developed a new term for this bad posture that he calls the iHunch, in reference to Apple’s popular iPhone. It might also be called iPosture or even “text neck.”
The average head weighs 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 – 5.5 kilos). When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases that weight to 60 pounds (27 kilos). When Steve August started treating patients more than 30 years ago, he says he saw plenty of hunching or slouching, what later become permanent humps where the upper back has frozen into a forward curve. However, he saw this physical deformity only in grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Now he’s seeing the same slouched shoulders in teenagers.
Not surprisingly, there appears to be a linear relationship between the size of your device and the extent to which it affects you. Cellphones are smaller than tablets, for example. The smaller the device, the more you must contract your body to use it. Additionally, the more shrunken and inward your posture, the more submissive you are likely to become.
Interestingly, when we’re sad or scared or feel powerless, we also slouch or stoop over. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that resembles the iHunch. One study, published in 2010 in the official journal of the Brazilian Psychiatric Association, found that depressed patients were more likely to stand with their necks bent forward, shoulders collapsed, and arms drawn in toward the body, a position not unlike the iHunch.
Many psychologists believe that posture can not only reflect our emotional states, but it can also contribute to them. In a study published in Health Psychology, Dr. Shwetha Nair and her colleagues studied non-depressed participants. They divided the study participants into two groups and asked them the same questions. One group was instructed to sit in a straight and upright position, while the second group sat with slouched posture. Linguistic analyses revealed that slouchers were more negative in what they had to say. Compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and greater fear. The researchers concluded, “Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.” In a 2009 study of Japanese schoolchildren, those who were trained to sit with upright posture were more productive than their classmates in writing assignments.
Ironically, while many of us spend hours every day using small mobile devices to increase our productivity and efficiency, interacting with these objects, even for short periods of time, might do just the opposite, reducing our assertiveness and undermining our productivity.
Despite all this, we rely on our mobile devices far too much to give them up, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Fortunately, there are ways to fight the iHunch. Keep your head up and shoulders back when looking at your phone, even if that means holding it at eye level. You can also try stretching frequently or massaging the two muscle groups that are involved in the iHunch – those between the shoulder blades and the ones along the sides of the neck. This helps reduce scarring and restores elasticity.
Finally, the next time you reach for your phone, remember that it induces slouching, and slouching can change your mood and possibly even your behavior. Your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture.
[Research for this article comes from The New York Times.]