6 Tips to relieve aches caused by electronic devices

The technological revolution has given us some wonderful tools to work with in our jobs. We use them. We love them. We rely on them. We also pay a big price for every electronic device we use—and I’m not just talking about dollars. I’m talking about our health.

With the increased use of so many new electronic devices and software tools, physical exercise for many busy professionals has been reduced.

Most of us spend way too much time in front of one kind of screen or another. Unfortunately, “high definition” does not refer to the effect on our muscle tone. The more engaged we become with computers, smartphones and apps, the less active we become.

Bottom line: Our virtual lifestyles leave our virtual bodies behind, and that can cause physical health problems. Before diving into those problems, let’s explore how this change evolved.

Our Evolving Bodies

Evolution has taken us farther from, instead of closer to, our bodies. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi offers this perspective in his book, The Evolving Self.

“After a huge jump in evolution, organisms learned to find out what was going on at a distance from them, without having to actually feel their environment,” Csikszentmihalyi writes. “Up to this point, the processing of information was entirely intrasomatic; that is, it took place within the body. We felt, we sensed and we were very aware of what we did and how that affected our body and health. But when speech appeared (and even more powerfully with the invention of writing), information processing became extrasomatic, out of the body.”

Csikszentmihalyi adds that processing information now—which mostly takes place outside our bodies, on paper and in computers—causes us to further distance ourselves from our bodies.

Obviously, we won’t stop using our high-tech devices; but we can get smarter and learn to use them more efficiently. We can find ways to pace ourselves by taking breaks from technology and nurturing our bodies in the process.

A human head weighs approximately 12 pounds when balanced above the spine. As the neck bends forward and down, the pressure increases, placing a greater demand on the cervical spine. At a 15-degree angle, the cervical spine must support approximately 27 pounds. At 30 degrees, it supports 40 pounds, and so on. Our trapezius muscles kick in to compensate, which strains the back muscles. Overworked back muscles weaken the stomach muscles, which truncates the breath.

Experts say these muscle strains can reduce lung capacity by a whopping 30 percent. This domino effect spreads throughout every part of the body, until eventually it becomes painful to type text messages.

If your posture is suffering because of too much smartphone texting, you may have a “text neck” problem. Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Clinic, describes “text neck” in simple terms: “It’s the burden that comes with staring at a smartphone the way millions do for hours every day.”

Over time, this type of poor posture can lead to premature wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even expensive surgery. All of these issues create more stress on the body, mind and pocketbook.

Tom DiAngelis, president of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Private Practice Section, concurs. “Just look around you; everyone has their heads down,” DiAngelis told CNN last year, noting the text neck effect is similar to bending a finger all the way back and holding it there for about an hour.

“As you stretch the tissue for a long period of time, it gets sore, it gets inflamed,” DiAngelis said.

Overextending the neck can result in pinched nerves and even herniated disks, which degrades the neck’s natural curve.

6 Whole-Body Solutions

These six practices can help.

Be aware of your body: When you are talking on the phone or using your computer, make some adjustments if necessary. This will lessen the strain, decrease muscle and joint aches, and keep you more alert and energized.

Keep your head up: Don’t lean into your devices. Bring your mobile phone and other electronic gadgets closer to your body. (If necessary, send yourself a text as a reminder not to look down or lean into your mobile phone or laptop.)

Take stretch breaks: Slowly, stretch your neck backward and around. Gradually, lean your head back as far as you can to counterbalance hours of neck strain from looking down at computers and mobile phones. You can also lower your right ear toward your right shoulder and lower your left ear toward your left shoulder to work out neck kinks. Next, slowly turn your head to the right and left to keep knots from forming.

Do spot-checks: Every 30 minutes, take a spot-check and notice if you are straining your neck or eyes. Get up and walk for at least a minute or two to rest your eyes, shoulders and neck.

Embrace the whole body: Take a body awareness test such as the one at wholebodyintelligence.com to learn about the connection (or disconnection) to your body, posture, etc.

Be kinder to your neck and overall health: Today’s high-tech devices are amazingly productive, but using them should not hinder your health and happiness.

Steve Sisgold has appeared on major radio and TV networks and shows, including PBS, Oprah and Monte. He holds an M.A. in marketing, a B.S. in business and a certification in body-centered psychotherapy. His book, What’s Your Body Telling You?, from McGraw-Hill, was No. 1 on Amazon.com in several categories; and his most recent book, Whole Body Intelligence, launched as the No. 1 Hot New Release on Amazon.com.