Great Health Guide


How to combat ‘device strain’ from mobile phones & laptops

- Kusal Goonewarde­na

Many people suffering back pain, neck pain and stiff joints don’t realise they are suffering from a most insidious, common and debilitati­ng condition – device strain.

Among the most common device strain issues are:

• smartphone neck

• laptop back.

Smartphone neck is increasing­ly widespread, caused by slouching and craning our necks forward when viewing smartphone­s. This causes neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain and headaches.

Laptop back is most commonly caused by movie marathons on your laptop, often involving the comfy confines of a bed or a couch – unfortunat­ely, as we relax, we forget our posture, leading to bad backs, side strain, shoulder strain, hip strain, sciatica-like symptoms, Achilles heel pain and headaches.

These affliction­s may appear at any age. We are even seeing more schoolchil­dren with device-related issues. At first it seemed quite mysterious. But once we understood more about the child’s daily activities, we are finding that they may be spending several hours a day on devices.

Unfortunat­ely, devices can compromise our posture and exacerbate other issues such as osteoarthr­itis. However, there are things you can do to overcome this and avoid device strain problems such as

smartphone neck and laptop back.

It may help to remember that our bodies are 70% water. We are meant to move and moving your body encourages natural lubricatio­n through the joints including those at spinal level. Giving yourself a break from sitting for too long is vital.

Also remember that seated posture is often more important than standing posture. Thus, if you address your seated posture, you vastly improve your chances to overcome pain and prevent musculoske­letal injury.


1. Make your device a cue: Every time you check your phone, sit or stand tall. Studies have found people check their phone 60-80 times per day. If you use this as a cue to stand or sit tall you will be establishi­ng a healthy habit which will soon become second nature.

2. Have breaks: Try not to sit for more than 30 minutes at a time – or at least no more than a single episode of your favourite series. If you are indulging in movie marathons, consider getting up between each episode, even if you’re up and moving for a just a couple of minutes it makes a positive difference.

3. Use small exercises: Getting up regularly is a good idea, but what’s even better is doing some “small exercises” to keep you moving. Consider the following:

• Calf raises: Simply stand up on your tippy toes, hold for a few seconds, and then ease back down. Do several reps at a time.

• Side bends: Stand up straight with your arms at your side, legs slightly apart. Bring your right arm

up so your hand is above your head, then reach your arm over to the left as far as it can go, while leaning to your left at the same time. Your left hand should remain at your side, moving down your thigh as you stretch. Do three or four stretches and then repeat the process on your other side.

• Spinal rotations: Hold your arms straight out in front of you. While keeping them horizontal, swing them around your body from one side to the other, right around as far as they can go without causing you any pain. Try turning your head in line with your arms as they swing from side to side, which will rotate your spine even further.

4. Exercise regularly: People who are more active will have fewer problems with smartphone neck or laptop back. If you are doing a good mix of low, medium and high intensity exercises throughout the week then your body will be more flexible, your core will be stronger. You will be more resilient, and less prone to issues such as stiffness and arthritis.

Key points:

• Device strain is becoming more common and causing injuries such as smartphone neck and laptop back.

• Most device strain issues arise from poor posture.

• Regular activity and addressing posture may prevent device strain.

Kusal Goonewarde­na is an experience­d physiother­apist, lecturer, consultant and mentor to thousands of physiother­apy students around the world. Kusal recently developed the App KINRGIZE, available at Google Play and the App store. He has authored books including: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free; 3 Minute Workouts; and co-authored Natural Healing: Quiet and Calm. Kusal consults via his clinic, Elite Akademy.

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