Avoid “text neck” with these ergonomic tips

Workers using mobile devices for long periods are at risk of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) like “text neck” and would benefit from ergonomic intervention. 

Photo of man texting sitting at desk with laptop open

Photo credit: iStock.com/LDProd

Recently, a friend told me how much he uses his smart phone for his work at a rental company. He uses it for managing transportation and shipping documents, rental agreements, and inventory databases. He also uses it for maps and GPS, and for answering about half of all his emails — not to mention using it as an actual phone.

I thought about him when I read Signs and Symptoms of Our Texting Times, a recent article from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). It says that injuries like “text neck,” “cellphone elbow,” and digital eye strain are becoming more common as we spend longer hours using increasingly smaller, portable devices.

The article adds: “Although texting and tapping in front of a screen is not particularly hazardous for a worker who does them only occasionally, the situation becomes more critical when done for long periods each working day.”

I got in touch with WorkSafeBC ergonomist Dina Sikorski to learn more about this issue. She says that mobile devices were never meant to be used for prolonged periods. Our bodies often assume non-neutral postures when we’re using devices, which can lead to strains or other MSIs. For example, consider the act of looking down at your phone or tablet. Over time, our relatively heavy heads can put a strain on our necks and spine.

I also spoke with Tami Perkins, a WorkSafeBC human factors specialist/ergonomist, who added: “Given the evolving level of functionality of these devices, the use of them has increased over the years.”

She says that if workers are to use mobile devices the way they do computers, they need to consider appropriate ergonomic solutions.

Ergonomic tips for workers using hand-held devices

Dina encourages workers to keep these tips in mind when using hand-held devices:

  • Keep messages brief. If you need to write a longer email or message, use a computer or use your device with an external accessory, like a keyboard.
  • Hold your device vertically when typing, as this reduces the amount of reaching space your thumbs will need to cover to push the keys.
  • Hold your phone upright as much as possible so you’re not looking down. And remember to change your posture frequently!
  • Attach an accessory to your phone or tablet that you can use to securely hold your device, rather than gripping it with your hand.

For more information, see WorkSafeBC’s Ergonomics webpage. Also see A Pain in the Hand, an opinion piece in OHS Canada Magazine.

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