SMS on the go ‘hurts your back’

Sunday February 02 2014

WILLIAM OERI A woman texts on her phone. Texting while walking causes back problems, a new survey shows.


Texting on that little gadget in your palm while walking could cause you back problems.

Yes, in a study released last week, researchers warn that texting on a mobile phone while walking alters posture and balance and leads to back problems.

And that habit is a public health concern among mobile-savvy populations, which include Kenya, the study concludes.

The research by the University of Queensland could affect the lifestyles of some of Kenya’s 30 million mobile subscribers, who are fond of texting on the move.

The study by Dr Siobhan Schabrun and her colleagues warns that texting or reading on a mobile may also compromise the safety of pedestrians navigating obstacles or crossing the road.

The scientists studied the effect of mobile phone use on body movement while walking in 26 people, where each person walked at a comfortable pace in a straight line over a distance of approximately 8.5 metres while doing one of these three tasks: walking without using a phone, walking while reading text on a mobile phone, or typing text on a mobile phone.


The body’s movement was evaluated using a three-dimensional movement analysis system.

“In comparison with normal walking, when participants were writing text, they walked slower, deviated more from a straight line and moved their neck less than when reading text,” says Dr Schabrun in the study published in PLOS ONE journal on January 22.

“Although the arms and head moved with the chest to reduce relative motion of the phone and facilitate reading and texting, movement of the head increased, which could negatively impact the balance system,” the report reads in part.

Kenyatta National Hospital orthopaedic and spine surgeon Fred Otsyeno terms the findings as “interesting and correct”, although he raises queries over the 26-person sample size and the distance used to evaluate the respondents.

“Good posture even though practised over long periods ultimately takes into account one’s conscious input, which can be distracted by multi-tasking,” Dr Otsyeno noted in an interview with the Nation on Sunday.

He further warns the unhealthy trend could present future back problems although he advises that the main factors affecting posture are completely within one’s ability to control and are not difficult to change.

“Walking in the correct posture can alleviate common problems such as back or neck pain, headaches, and fatigue,” he says.

Dr Otsyeno advises that a good posture will also lift your spirits in your everyday endeavours.

“Being in good general health and standing (or sitting) tall will also boost your bearing and self-confidence and style,” Dr Otsyeno, who is also the president of the Pan African Orthopaedic Association, says.

When driving, Dr Otsyeno advises that you use a back support and that the knees should be at the same level or higher than the hips.

“Move the seat close to the steering wheel to support the curve of your back. The seat should be close enough to allow for the knees to bend and the feet to reach the pedals.”

And when lying down, Dr Otsyeno believes the pillow should be under your head, not your shoulders, and should be of the thickness that allows your head to be in a normal position.