Handheld devices have probably become a natural extension of ourselves and we rarely stay apart from them. They are likely to be the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night. They keep us company during long commutes to and from work and, in some more severe obsessive cases, even at the cinema and at the theatre. 

This symbiotic relationship with iPhones, iPads, mobile texting and browsing can wreak havoc with our health. If you have ever experienced pain, tension, pins and needles and stiffness in your wrists, arms, shoulders and neck, then it is time to take action and rethink your relationship with your device. 

Tips to help prevent pain while using your iPad or iPhone

1) Take regular breaks. You probably have heard this before but setting up an alarm once an hour to remind you to take a 2-5 minutes break away from the screen can provide vital rest to your muscles, joints and eyes.

2) Check your posture. Do you slouch when browsing the internet on your iPad? Does your head fall forward while texting on your iPhone? As soon as you catch yourself slouching, readjust your posture by straightening your back and shoulders and keep your device at eye level. If you carry a rucksack use it as a makeshift support to raise your device to eye level.

3) Loosen up your wrists. While using an iPad, one arm supports the device while the other navigates the screen. The supporting limb can be affected by fatigue from static work (isometric contraction). In other words, the muscles in that arm are working hard to stay still and after prolonged use you may get a “burning” sensation. The navigating limb will start developing strain particularly in the forearm: in order to move your index finger to scroll through pages the muscles of the forearm act as a remote control and they will experience strain and fatigue from constant repetitive movement. To prevent fatigue loosen up your wrists by performing some wrist rotations clockwise and anticlockwise and shake the wrists loose to facilitate blood circulation.

4) Stretch your neck. This step is related to posture: if you bend your neck forwards and lose spinal alignment you are at risk of developing disc and nerve injuries. Any type of compression on the nerves stemming from the neck will result in shoulder and arm pain. To alleviate pain stretch your neck to one side first slowly and gently and then to the other side. Set up an alarm to do the stretches regularly throughout the day (once an hour would be ideal).

5) Ask Siri. The jury is still out on Siri and how useful speech recognition can be. However, to check and reply to emails and text messages, you can dictate messages to Siri and avoid some typing. Probably not very useful on a train packed full of commuters.

6) Ice application. Strained, aching muscles can become inflamed and one of the best ways to reduce inflammation, together with rest, is application of an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas). Apply one minute on, one minute off, for between five and ten minutes. The coldness will ease the inflammation while the reaction to the ice application will bring fresh oxygenated blood to the muscle fibres.

7) Self-massage. Considering that the forearms are taking most of the impact from typing and browsing, you can massage the forearms from the wrist to the elbow to ease the discomfort. You can either choose to perform static points of pressure with your thumb or small circles with your thumb along the forearm.

If you experience constant pain and stiffness and it is affecting your sleep and ability to concentrate you must contact your doctor as soon as possible and ask to be referred to a specialist. In the meantime best course of action is rest and stretching.

About Paola Bassanese

Paola Bassanese is an award-winning massage therapist and wellness writer. See her website www.energya.co.uk for more information.

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