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iPosture: The New Cause of Back Pain

By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS

Making it through a meal these days without someone grabbing a cell phone and making a call, sending a text, taking a picture, checking email, looking up something online, or participating in any other electronic errand is all but impossible. Cell phones have become a sort of appendage for most people and there is a constant list of things that “need” tending to online. It has become the addiction of the 21st century. Somehow there is always a justification for grabbing the phone and checking whatever is the “latest and greatest” online, sending that last email, or checking your Facebook status. For the millions of smart phone users out there, cutting down on screen time takes more than a conscious effort.

Researchers have developed a name for the slouching while texting and surfing the web. It is now referred to as “iPosture”. It is the driving force behind a wave of back pain in millennials. A recent survey of 3,000 adults in the United Kingdom reveled that the addictive use of smart devices such as phone and tablets is the cause of early onset back pain in the “millennial generation”.

The study reported 84 percent of 18- 24-year-olds reported experiencing back pain in the past 12 months. The average number of working days the group lost to back pain was 1.5 days more than their parents’ generation and higher than any other age group. Researchers said people from almost all age groups spend just as much time in front of a screen as they do participating in one of their other favorite hobbies, sleeping. The difference between age groups seems to come from how they behave in front of the screen, according to the study. Two thirds of 18- 24 year olds admitted to slouching in front of their computers at work and half said they repeat the behavior at home. Researchers said 45- 54 year olds were twice as likely to report sitting up straight in front of the screen.

According to Dr. Brain Hammond, “Slumping and hunching over computers and hand-held devices appears to be a contributory factor in the difference in types of back pain between the generations,” He added, “Younger people are far more likely to be hunched over a device on a sofa, and would benefit from paying close attention to the basics of good posture.” Fortunately, back pain related to iPosture can be avoided by simply sitting or standing up straight. Etiquette and department expert Jean Broke-Smith stated, “Although it has been decades since people learned good posture at finishing schools, the time seems right to recognize its potential to help younger people avoid the risk of back pain associated with increasing use of hand-held devices”. The first step is admitting you have a posture problem. The second is correcting it on recognition. Here are four ways to limit cell phone use and save your back:

Replace smart-phone time with book time. Back in the old days, most people carried a paperback wherever they went. Now, instead of opening an actual book we read the top five reasons Miley Cyrus has lost her mind, or we check out what our Facebook friends ordered at Starbucks.

Make of a list of the situations when a smart-phone isn’t a necessity. When cell phones came about, the justification for their existence was found in their ability to help people in an emergency. Now we are paralyzed without one. Sit down with your family, friends or coworkers and make a list of places where phones are not necessary, and then leave the devices behind or off. In our house phones are not permitted during any meal involving more than one person. This encourages actual human communication and lets the people you are sharing a meal with know that they are more important to you than an electronic device. If the person on the other end of the smart phone is more important you should be having dinner with them.

Store your device while driving. Cars have become mobile offices. Even if the driver isn’t texting, they usually have the phone close by. Put the phone in the storage compartment before starting the car and don’t touch it until you reach your destination. The new rallying cry against texting while driving states “it can wait”. This should include all other smart phone distractions, including but not limited to: checking social media, making unnecessary calls and checking the weather. Hand the phone off to a passenger if some sort of communication needs to be made. Turn the phone off or place it on silent. This simple suggestion will decondition you from the “Pavlov” response of reacting to every sound the phone makes and reduce your “need” to check the phone for various responses.

These simple tips can prevent you from developing “iPain” before your time!