Is Technology Breaking Your Back?

April 3, 2017
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New research from the British Chiropractic Association confirms what many office workers will have long suspected from personal experience – computers may save you time, but they are not good for your back.

Before we get to the main issue however, let’s warm up. I want to try a little experiment on you.  Don’t worry, it won’t hurt, though it could make you think. This will work best if you’re sat in an office chair, but it’s effective in any position.

Imagine a string.  One end is attached to the top of your head (don’t ask me how it’s attached, magic perhaps? Anyway, just go with it). Now, the other end of this string extends up from your head. Feel it being pulled gently skywards. Let your back straighten up, your shoulders come back a little and, if you’re sat in an office chair, shuffle back a little so that the base of your spine is against the lower bit of the chair’s back support. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear a story about posture or back pain on the TV, I suddenly become acutely aware that I’m slouching.  Is that happening to you right now?

If so, don’t be alarmed, we all slouch a bit I’m afraid.  Good posture is a positive thing, but that’s a discussion for another day. I’m going to talk instead about the effects of prolonged use of technology on our bodies and the importance of taking breaks.

Before my little posture experiment, I referred to some new research, so let’s take a look at that.  The survey found that computer use is the top tech back pain trigger for people, with a third of those surveyed having experienced back or neck pain after using their laptop or desktop computer. Despite this, only 15% said they’d limited their computer use as a result. Seems to be a discrepancy here.

I’m going to bet that most of us aren’t sitting up straight all day (and my little slouching experiment may have exposed your own poor posture), so consider taking a break from your computer as a simple way to give your body a welcome break. Our bodies aren’t designed to stay in one position for long periods of time so whether you’re working on a spreadsheet for your boss to ignore, sharing yet another cat meme or recreating the Taj Mahal in Minecraft; remember to stand up at least every 40 minutes and move around to keep your muscles active. There are some simple exercises you can do as part of the Straighten Up UK programme.

Of course, for many of us, being stuck at a computer for nigh on eight hours a day is a chore we have to live with and, even with frequent breaks, we’re very likely to be overdoing it on our downtime too.

Are you a bus stop zombie?  Many a line up at a stop these days will consist of a row of people in a screen-induced temporary coma, all reaching untold heights in Candy Crush while the number 57 flies past, unnoticed.  Seriously though, the use of devices has reached epidemic proportions and it’s not good for mind or body, especially our backs.  If you’re staring at a screen for a large chunk of the day, for work or pleasure, it’s really worthwhile considering a detox or at least setting some house rules to reduce the use.  It can be liberating to go a day without checking your tech.  And, if you can go a day, maybe try a week.  Ok, so that might be hard for many of us, connected as we all are to the internet, entangled like trapped flies in the World Wide Web, but putting some effort into limiting screen time is no bad idea.

My first suggestion would be – no phones at the dinner table. Sounds like a no-brainer to some, but you’ll see it happening at teatimes across the land.  A similar rule could be not to have devices at the table in restaurants, or even at the pub table, but it’s harder to enforce among friends than family.  If you can try though, then do.  It’s quite refreshing I assure you.

Another idea is to ban phones from the bedroom. You’ve got the triple threat of staying up later as you’re engrossed in some website or video, the blue light from the device blocking your sleep brainwaves (seriously, check this out) and having notifications pinging and buzzing at you when you finally do decide to put the tech down for the night. If you are going to take your mobile to bed (mine’s my alarm clock), then put it in aeroplane mode to reduce the temptation to interact with it.

So, detox when you can and take regular breaks from tech when you can’t.  If you need help with good posture, try consulting a chiropractor.  They can set you straight (quite literally). Most of all, remember to look after your back and it’ll look after you in the long run.