Fourteen-year-old Sumit Punjabi (name changed) is just another school-going teenager from Mumbai. He never misses school, and is good in his studies. He is also popular among his friends on Facebook, and stays in touch with them 24x7 on his smartphone. When not checking his phone, he keeps himself busy by watching cartoons and TV shows, or playing video games.
Games, social networking and watching movies are the top three usages of all smartphone owners in India. Representative Pic
But for the last few months, this technologically suave teenager has been facing difficulties, thanks to a lower back pain, that doesn’t allow him to sit at a place for over 30 minutes. The pain, however, hasn’t been sudden but has increased gradually over months.
Young and the hooked
“We have been seeing a lot of teenagers and young adults like him, lately, with issues like lower back pain and neck pain as compared to ten years ago. What’s surprising is that most of them like Punjabi, do not have any history of any fall or trauma,” says Dr Anjana Laungani, consultant physiotherapist and rehab specialist at Physio Rehab. “His back pain was due to faulty postures, which built up over a period of time due to his sedentary lifestyle, which included mostly sitting for prolonged period of time in front of the television, laptop, PlayStation and also extensive mobile phone usage without paying any attention on his posture while sitting,” she says. His sleeping habits were erratic; and he wasn’t keen to
But what is the link between posture, back pain and gadgets? Dr Laungani says that a healthy spine is one that is flexible, stable and has a proper alignment ie posture. The correct posture of human spine is a S-shaped curvature from the neck down to the tailbone. “With modern gadgets, the S-shaped curvature is not maintained, resulting in excessive stress and strain on normal spine structures. While using them, teenagers as well as adults are mostly sitting slouched for long periods of time and they are so engrossed in it that they are least aware of their faulty postures. At times, teenagers adopt the faulty postures as a habit even when they are not using these gadgets,” she adds. City-based consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Sunil Chavan says that while using mobile/tablet, the cervical spine is continuously in flexed posture which shifts centre of gravity resulting in poor posture. And, if not treated in time, poor posture can create permanent changes in
spine alignment. “It happens because weight bearing forces are shifted to structures and areas not suited for prolonged stress, leading to early disc degeneration and osteoarthritis. The stress can also lead to permanent deformity in form of scoliosis (when the spine curves sideways) or excessive kyphotic curve in thoracic spine.”
Help at hand
Thankfully, poor posture can be prevented with continuous exercises and ergonomic advice. “The earlier it’s applied the faster are the results,” Chavan reassures. Punjabi went through four weeks of routine exercises, which included educating him about his posture, using gadgets like phones on the eye-level, spinal stability workouts, and was encouraged to take part in activities like swimming, cycling and walking. He has also been learning preventive workouts that he can do on his own. As a pointer, Dr Laungani says that most pains due to poor posture starts with minimal pain initially but if not taken care in the early age it can lead to early degenerative changes, disc prolapse or even bone fracture in future. So, never ignore any back pain, and always maintain a proper posture while you using any modern gadgets.
Tips for good posture
>> Avoid prolonged sitting at your desk, while watching TV or while using gadgets.
>> Take a break every 30 minutes. Whenever possible stand/walk around for a few minutes.
>> Adopt a lifestyle whereby sitting is minimised. At the workplace, take frequent standing breaks while answering the phone, stand up during meetings, fetch water yourself/send a fax/make photocopies on your own instead of delegating it.
>> Avoid holding the phone or mobile between the ear and shoulder, as it will injure your neck.
>> Incorrect workstation ergonomics will give you upper back and neck pain. Maintain the level of computer screen in front of you, support the arms on the chair handles and use proper lighting to prevent strain on eyes.
>> While certain demands of modern lifestyle cannot be avoided (school children need to use computers for their studies); however, use of these gadgets should be time-balanced to avoid spinal injuries and thereby ensure proper posture, along with activity modification and exercise regime.