How Looking Down at Your Cell Phone Affects Your Spine



You find yourself looking down at your phone more often than you are looking up. We have become a multi-tasking world, looking at our phones while conversing, walking, exercising, etc. It is hard to resist this computer which sits in our hands and provides us immediate information. Unfortunately, studies have continued to discuss the deleterious effects of looking at small screens, the blue light keeping our brains awake, the changes in socialization, as well as, the biomechanical strain to our body. Look around and note a person’s posture during cell phone use.  Typically, a person is in slumped positions, the head markedly forward hanging down in front of them and their eyes are fixed on a screen. This strain to one’s muscular and spinal systems will inevitably contribute to headaches, jaw pain, poor breathing and digestion due to diaphragm position and constriction at the trachea, and low back and pelvic pain.  The reality is our phones are here to stay, and if anything, they will get smaller versus larger only exacerbating the problem. So be proactive and fix your posture.

Ideal posture has been shown to help with improving mood, learning, breathing, digestion and easing pain. What is ideal? If sitting or standing, the ear and shoulders align bringing the neck into a position where there is a slight curve and the head is not jetted forward. Shoulders are aligned with the hips as you sit on top of your sit bones. It you are sitting back of your sit bones; you will flatten your low back. If you sit to far forward, you might hyperextend your low back and/or pitch the upper body too far forward. In sitting, provide your thighs support and feet on the floor. In standing, legs are straight with knees soft and facing forward.  Hips, knees and ankles are aligned with equal weight placed between the balls of the feet and heels. When standing upright, there is a tendency to stand out versus up. Standing “out” means the lower front ribs tend to flare out, whereas standing “up” means to lengthen from the crown of the head.  When using your phone, do your best to bring the phone up to meet your eyes while pulling the shoulders away from the ears. Working with clients, there is often a feeling of “I can never achieve that position.”  I reiterate, there is an ideal but there is also a reality, do the best you can!

Being in an ideal position may feel exhausting due to muscular fatigue. Here are exercises building muscular strength and endurance while challenging postural stability.

Perform all exercise for 30-45 seconds or 10-20 reps. Repeat 1-3 times.

Position

Incline/Accessory

Movement

Variations 

Prone / on belly facing tower

Upper back extension with arm pulleys

Arm Pulleys

Initiate with drawing shoulders away from the ears and the neck then upper back up. Note the head and spine will be in one straight line. 

Low kneeling or seated bent with body hinged forward

Prone / on belly facing tower Upper back extension arm series:

 

Pull down wide

Pull down narrow

Triceps press

Extension

Shoulder Adduction/ “½ circles”

Arm Pulleys 

Slide the shoulders away from the ears, lift the upper back up and then:

Wide Pull Down: Pull elbows into the sides and hands to shoulders with palms to face down

Narrow Pull Down: Pull elbows into the sides and hands to shoulders with palms toward the body

Shoulder extension: Maintain the arms straight and pull the arms straight down to the sides. Hands can face the body or down by the sides.

Triceps extension: Bend the elbows into the sides then straighten and bend the elbow

Shoulder adduction “1/2 circle”: Bring the arms out to the sides like a T then pull them all the way down to the hips. 

Lift and lower into upper back extension with each repetition or hold the upper back in extension then perform the arm movement.

Ensure core activation with navel pulling away from the glideboard and lower ribs are on the glideboard.

Ensure the legs are also engaged. Visualize reaching out the hips with the legs and engage the buttocks.  

Seated forward Front Raise bent progressing to straight elbows

Chest Press

Arm Pulleys 

Front Raise: Sitting tall in neutral pelvis with the arms by the sides with elbows bent. Push the arms forward to shoulder height then bend the elbows returning them to her sides.

Chest Press: Bring the arms to shoulder level in front of the body, bend the elbow to the sides at shoulder level then press out straight. 

Focus on pulling the shoulders away from the ears throughout the movement.

Visualize lengthening through the crown of the head.

Ensure sitting on top of the sit bones versus forward or backward. 

Seated backward 

Low Row

Shoulder Extension

Shoulder Rotation

Rear Fly

Adding forward bend at the hips into neutral posture to progress

Arm Pulleys 

Focus on sitting tall and sliding the shoulders away from the ears with arms reaching for the tower:

Low Row: bend the elbows into the sides with palms facing the body.

Shoulder extension: Maintain the elbows straight and pull the arms straight back toward the hips. Palms can face the body or forward.

High Elbow Row with External Rotation: Pull the elbows up and out to the sides with the elbows bent and shoulder facing down. Pull the forearms backward to form a “L” position with hands to the sky.

Pulling arms to sides/ Wide Rear Fly”: Keep the arms straight and pull the arms straight out to the side like a “T”. Palms can face each other or up to the sky. 

Focus on pulling the shoulders away from the ears throughout the movement.

Visualize lengthening through the crown of the head.

Ensure sitting on top of the sit bones versus forward or backward.

Keep the elbows straight with shoulder extension and wide fly, however. Avoid hyperextension.

Stretching facing forward

Chest opener

Forward thread the needle

Seated thread the needle 

No Pulleys

Forward Bend: Reach the arms for the squat stand and allow the body to bend forward feeling the stretch in the arms and chest and back of legs.  Hold for 3-5 deep breaths or 30-40 seconds.

Thread the needle: While leaning forward, reach one arm under and across the body. Feel the stretch along the side of the body. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths or 30-40 seconds.

Lateral Lean: Sit tall and reach arms up and over to one side. Reach side to side 3-5 times then hold the last rep for a stretch.

Lateral Lean with Rotation: Sitting tall and reach overhead to the right with the left arm, the right arm with reach across the body to the left. Reach 3-5 times then hold the stretch.  Repeat on the other side.   

Elizabeth Leeds, DPT

Elizabeth Leeds, owner of Seaside Fitness and Wellness, combines her background in physical therapy, personal training, and Pilates in her practice and teaching. As a pelvic floor physical therapist working at Comprehensive Therapy Services in San Diego, her passion for pregnancy and postpartum is seen in her mission to empower women with knowledge and understanding of their physical changes, and how to address them to prevent future issues.Additionally, Elizabeth is a Master Trainer and developer for Total Gym’s GRAVITY education.

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