2021 Applied Ergonomics Conference Session Summary: Smartphone Ergonomics

With the ever-increasing availability and usage of smart phones, people are spending more time than ever on them—much more time than they should, especially younger generations. There has been a lot of discussion and many jokes surrounding how smart devices have impacted us mentally and emotionally, but what about physically?

The “Smartphone Ergonomics: Applying Lean/Six Sigma Tools and Multi-task Evaluation Models to Quantify Physical Exposures and Compare Solutions” session of the virtual 2021 Applied Ergonomics Conference, presented by Murray Gibson, PE, CPE, and Ravinder Thaper, MS, AEP, COHC, discussed the risks and development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from such intensive smartphone usage.

MSDs have developed from prolonged smartphone use.

Named for their obvious origins, conditions like “iPhoneitis,” “texting neck/thumb,” “selfie elbow” and “smartphone pinky” have become increasingly common.

Typical smartphone use aggravates the same areas of the body as traditional MSDs.

Think of the way you usually hold your phone. You slip the thin device out of your pocket, hold it in one hand, while using your thumb to touch the miniature buttons on the small screen. At the same time, you’re supporting the bottom of your phone with your pinky and looking downward at the device. This increases muscle activity all the way up your arm, from the wrist to the neck. People can spend hours at a time using their phone in these awkward postures, with continued muscle strain, which are factors of developing MSDs.

There’s hope, and there’s a better way to hold a smartphone.

It’s unnerving to realize that the way you hold such a small device can have such a large impact on your body. Luckily, there are easy ways to rectify the issue of physical strain from using smartphones.

It can be as simple as using both hands to hold and support the phone. You can also hold it higher to eye level or take advantage of features already available in your keyboard, such as dictation and suggested words. Some easy-to-find smartphone accessories can help as well, such as various styles of phone stands and hand straps for phone cases.