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Summer Digital Detox – Physical Health

Younger workers especially are at risk of posture and musculoskeletal issues because of too much use of smartphones and digital devices, research has suggested. But these are health and wellbeing lessons we can all learn, at any age.

Employee health and wellbeing – put away that phone to save your fingers, shoulders, neck and back

Younger workers could be risking their long-term health and increasing their chances of developing a musculoskeletal (MSK) disorder through overuse of their smartphones and other portable devices, an expert has argued.

Katherine Metters from workplace ergonomics consultancy Posturite told a recent conference of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health that employers should encourage employees to make adjustments to how they use their smartphones or laptops so as to minimise their chances of developing an MSK condition.

“Picture the scene. You are on a bus or train looking around and the majority of people are heads down on their laptops, tablets or phones,” she said.

“How aware are these people of the damage they are potentially doing to themselves? Do they know they may be causing themselves years of suffering with a chronic condition later in life? Even if they did, would they change,” she added.

Effect of poor posture

Of course, this is just one voice. But there is growing evidence that poor posture while using digital devices, and over-intense usage, can have a negative effect on employee health and wellbeing.

A study last year by academics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, for example, concluded there is a link between texting on mobile phones and short-term musculoskeletal conditions in young adults.

It also stands to reason that if you’re using any device – whether a phone or laptop – while crouched, hunched or slouched, that has the potential to store up musculoskeletal issues for the future, whatever your age.

So, irrespective of the mental health and wellbeing benefits [perhaps link to the other digital detox blog here?] of switching off from your digital devices (or at least dialling it down), there are potentially physical health and wellbeing and musculoskeletal benefits too.

Importance of awareness and education

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, explains: “Digital mobile devices are so commonplace nowadays that we often barely give it a second thought if we’re using them on, say, the train, or on the sofa at home or even awkwardly in a taverna on holiday.

“But it is important to remember that bad posture is bad posture and that, while working in this way may feel convenient, if you’re not careful you could be generating health and wellbeing issues down the line.

“For employees who are consistently or frequently working in this way, employers have a duty of care to carry out appropriate risk assessment and provide proper help, support, adjustment and training,” she adds.