Smartphones present unique problems. For one thing, they increase the risk for “texting thumb,” or de Quervain syndrome, an irritation of the tendon or tendon sheath on the outside of the thumb. Dr. Hedge suggests downloading a swipe-to-type keyboard app, which uses predictive text and finger swiping and is much easier on the thumbs. Even better, dictate texts. And if you talk on your phone a lot, invest in a handset so you do not have to hold it up to your ear.
When looking at your phone, don’t hold it down near your chest or waist, because you have to look down to see it, which strains your neck muscles.
“When you tilt your head down, you increase the effective weight of your head six times, from about 10 pounds to about 60 pounds,” Dr. Hedge said. If you have armrests on your chair, prop your elbows on them and hold your phone up near eye level. If you do not have armrests, prop your elbow against your stomach while holding the phone.
Take breaks and make changes if you’re in pain.
Perhaps the most important tip is one we have the hardest time with: take frequent breaks and change your position regularly.
“We say, ‘Your next position is your best position,’” said Michelle Robertson, a lecturer at Northeastern University and the director of the Office Ergonomics Research Committee, a group of companies that fund ergonomic research. Sitting for a long time in the same position restricts blood flow and is not good for your muscles, she explained. You also need to focus your eyes on new objects and distances every 20 minutes or so to prevent eyestrain.
If you start feeling pain at your desk or while working and don’t know what to do, consider hiring a certified professional ergonomist to evaluate your workstation (even better, hire one before you experience pain). Talk to your company’s human resources department — it may already have someone it works with.
Also, check out this helpful Cornell guide, “Where It Hurts,” which identifies common causes of workplace-related pain. Don’t just work through the aches, because — and I say this from experience — it will only get worse if you do. But the good news is that small adjustments can make a really big difference.