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Is Your Smartphone Making You Hunch?

A new study says using digital devices could give you musculoskeletal problems.

We just told you about digital dementia—but turns out, we're not done delivering not-so-good news about your smartphone. Your stockpile of digital devices may be messing with your bones, muscles, and tendons, according to new research from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Physiotherapy Association.

In a three-year study of 1,049 people, 70% of adults and 30% of children and teens reported that their use of electronic devices, like smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers, had caused neck, shoulder, wrist or finger pain.

Of 465 adult study participants ages 18–50, 90% were daily smartphone users, 74% used desktop computers, 61% used laptop computers, and 35% used tablet computers. How their pain complaints broke down by body part: 70% of participants reported having experienced neck pain, 65% had shoulder pain, and 46% had wrist and finger pain. According to the study, most respondents used more than one type of device and stayed connected to it for a long time each day. Combined with a lack of exercise, maintaining a static posture may increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal problems in various parts of the body.

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Researchers were especially concerned about what these findings mean for school-age children who may spend a significant amount of time playing games on smartphones and other devices. If poor posture—like leaning the head forward or rounding the shoulders—becomes the norm, it'll be difficult to correct during adulthood, the study cautions.

Among the 582 school-age children included in the study, 84% used smartphones regularly (even higher than the 76% who used desktop computers), and 32% used a tablet computer on a regular basis. Among student respondents, 30% reported using smartphones for 1–4 hours every day, while 28% reported musculoskeletal discomfort related to the use of electronic devices. Close to 80% reported neck pain, 30% had shoulder pain, and 51% experienced wrist and finger pain.

So, in a world where it's virtually impossible to unplug completely, what's your best defense becoming an electronics-induced hunchback? Break from technology and hit the gym.

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