Economy / 1 August 2015, 09:00am / Sarah Jane Bosch
Cape Town - There are 37.2 million adults in South Africa and 97 percent of them have cellphones, so it’s not surprising that texting is a popular form of communication, which contributes to global statistics of more than one billion text messages sent every month.
Although the digital age comes with many benefits and different ways of working, it also brings a new set of health issues. An example of this is “text neck”, a relatively recent concern which affects millions of people across the globe and is now making its way to South Africa as technology becomes more readily available.
With six billion people in the world and more than four billion of them using mobile phones, many phone users now spend four hours a day reading mails, sending texts and checking social media sites. This means that for 1 400 hours a year people are putting stress on their spines. Text neck is gaining attention in the workplace as employers try to identify well-being options and solutions for staff.
“Text neck is the result of the axial skeleton and associated structures (muscle, ligaments, nerves, fascia) being exposed to extended period of abnormal and undue mechanical and positional stress caused by electronic devices used in ergonomically compromising positions,” says physiotherapist Jonathan Blake.
“I think the global term ‘text neck’ isn’t broad enough – it implies that the postural problems caused by poor ergonomics are related to texting only. A more encompassing term is clearly needed so that these postural problems can be related to all forms of electronic communication – from screens, to keyboards, to notebooks, laptops and tablets and so on.”
Blake says frequent text neck positions cause changes to the cervical spine, supporting ligaments, tendons, and musculature, and bony segments, commonly causing postural change. It has also been linked to headaches and neurological issues, depression and heart disease. What’s worse is that if left untreated, the condition can result in permanent damage including flattening of the spinal curve, to onset of early arthritis, spinal degeneration, loss of lung volume capacity and even gastrointestinal problems.
Although text neck is fairly new to South Africa and most statistics are extrapolated from overseas, it’s a health condition the sales team at Inspiration Office are familiar with. The national showroom stocks a range of ergonomic office furniture brands and regularly receives queries about how to prevent and address this increasing workplace issue.
Inspiration Office managing director, Richard Andrews, offers some tips for alleviating and avoiding text neck:
Be aware of your posture, and if you can’t, a range of gadgets has been introduced to help identify when you are slouching.
Try to limit your time spent in compromising positions, take a break and escape lengthy periods of being deskbound.
Instead of bending your neck, try looking down at your device with only your eyes.
Simple exercises such as standing in a doorway with your arms extended and pushing your chest forward to strengthen the muscles of good posture can help alleviate pain.
Find an office chair that is built to support your work. By investing in an ergonomically designed chair you can support your back and neck, which provides comfort during long workdays. Look for features like adjustable armrests that let you move around and change position throughout the day. SA office furniture manufacturer, AngelShack, has recently introduced the Perfect Operating Position (POP) chair, with nine ergonomic positions designed to counteract text neck.
Andrews says that as mobile devices become more widespread at work, people are beginning to work in different ways and seating postures, which were not included in office furniture design until recently.
“You should look for a good ergonomic office chair with adjustable arms that caters to your posture and technology needs. Instead of placing your phone or tablet on your lap, the chair and its arms should move accordingly to your posture. Office furniture often comes at the bottom of the importance list, but a supportive task chair and ergonomic work station are investments that can pay dividends in employee health and comfort,” says Andrews.