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Smartphones increase efficiency and connectivity, but they should come with a warning sign: Hunching and achiness ahead.
You probably just checked your email. You probably check it all the time—on a tiny screen that sits in the palm of your hand. According to a 2010 study by comScore, more than 42 million Americans now own smartphones like BlackBerrys and iPhones, which they use to access the Internet, play games, send texts and check email. Hard to believe, but the number of texts sent every day tops the number of people on earth.
“Smartphones make you feel constantly in touch,” says Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member. “They also allow for a much quicker conversation: If you text or email a question, you lower the risk of getting stuck on the phone. We’re impatient; we want things fast.”
Being able to connect on the go might add a lot of convenience to your life, but it also means spending a lot of time hunched over as you type on a tiny keyboard. The jokes about “BlackBerry thumb” and “cell-phone elbow” are no longer funny—people are starting to feel the pain of smartphone over usage and starting to look more like Gollum than Goliath. Dr. Eric Plasker, a chiropractor and a Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member, has heard more and more of his fellow practitioners talk about patients who suffer from repetitive stress injuries—like aching fingers, joints and wrists—that are directly related to too much smartphone use.
It’s not just chiropractors who are seeing these kinds of injuries. Margot Miller, a physical therapist and American Physical Therapy Association spokeswoman, says her industry is treating these types of injuries more frequently as well.
“We’re overusing our thumbs and fingers, which makes it easy to pick up a repetitive-stress injury,” Miller says. “I did it. I was using my smartphone too much. And I should know better.”
Plasker worries most about the negative effects on our necks from looking down at our smartphones all the time. “When your neck is continually bent down, your shoulders begin to hunch over, your muscles start adapting to this position, and your spine can get misaligned,” he says. “And your spine is the lifeline of your whole body.”
So how can you counteract the effects of all this phone time? With simple exercises and stretching that will make you fit for the phone.
Also, Miller suggests not using smartphones to compose long emails. “If it’s urgent, just write a short, polite response that you’ll reply when you’re back at your desk,” she advises. In addition, you should limit how much time you spend playing games on your smartphone and the number of text messages you send daily.
If you think you’ve already picked up a stress injury, check with a chiropractor or other healthcare provider. And if you’re a frequent smartphone user, think about having a healthcare professional examine your spinal alignment.
THE GOLD'S GYM "FIT FOR THE PHONE" WORKOUT
Here is the official Gold’s Gym workout to help you avoid the dreaded texting thumbs or cell-phone elbow. Plasker and Miller suggest these exercises that you can sprinkle through the day at your job, at the gym and on the go.
Do At Your Desk
Tap each finger with the thumb of the same hand. Repeat five times.
Alternate tapping the palm of your hand and the back of your hand against your thigh as quickly as you can. Repeat 20 times.
Open your hands, and spread your fingers as far apart as possible. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times.
Intertwine your fingers together, and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel only a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times.
Fold your hands together, turn your palms away from your body, and extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and from your shoulders to your hand. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times.
On the Go
Lift your head, eyes looking forward, to interrupt looking down as you use the smartphone or similar handheld device.
Shrug your shoulders and perform shoulder rolls to keep your shoulders, neck and upper back muscles relaxed.
At the Gym
Lower Back Extensions (a.k.a. Superman)
Romanian Deadlift With Upright Row
This move works your shoulders, as well as your lower back and glutes, to help counteract slouching. Make sure to start with light weights.
On a Mat