• Jo Surkitt

The IPad/IPhone injury: How your favourite gadget may be damaging your back

Got a twinge in your neck? Sore shoulders? Stress headache? Well, it could all be down to that nifty little gadget in your hand (the one you rarely put down). That’s right, your phone could be responsible for more than a news feed full of selfies and your busy social life. It could be curving your spine, tilting your head and damaging your shoulders. In actual fact, it might be destroying your body and causing harm that will long outlive even the most flattering selfie, especially if you’re not paying attention to your posture while you’re texting your mates or surfing the Net.

Upper Crossed Syndrome

The iPad wasn’t even a possibility when a clever Czech doctor called Vladimir Janda discovered a condition called Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS). A common posture problem, UCS describes a chronic over tightening and under working of a group of muscles in the upper back and neck. These muscles form a cross shape (shown in the image below), with the weaker muscles connected by one line of the cross and the overworked, tighter muscles connected by the other.

Image Source: ATMS Winter Journal 2015

What causes UCS?

UCS is caused by a number of everyday tasks that required us to work down and in front of our bodies. Back in 1979 when it was discovered, very few people held these positions for long periods of time. They might tend a baby, breastfeed or read a book, but they didn’t spend hours typing at computer keyboards only to come home and spend the evening surfing the Internet on a tablet on their knee. At the time, Dr Janda had relatively few patients to study, today he could take his pick.

Spending hours on your phone, tablet or working in front of a computer screen causes your upper spine to flex, your head to protract and your shoulders to rotate your arms forward. If you maintain this position for extended periods of time, then you can expect some muscle to contract and shorten (causing them to become tight) and those opposite them to lengthen (causing them to become weak).

Continuing in this position after you’ve done the damage, and even the long, weakened muscles will start to become tight as they try to balance out the shorter ones. At this point, your muscles are described as locked long and locked short. Neither are strong or able to contract properly, and you’re going to have a fight on your hands trying to repair the damage so that you can stand and sit straight.

That’s not to say it’s completely your fault. Some doctors believe that we are predisposed to this condition and that our modern, gadget-centric ways have only exasperated it. They think that the flexors in the neck and the rotator muscles that let you roll your arms forward are more likely to become weak because they are essential for achieving the foetal position, a primordial protective pose. Which is comforting to known if you feel you have this posture.

Signs and symptoms

If you’ve got UCS then you’ll have poor posture — you just might not notice it because you rarely put your phone down. And we rarely see ourselves in this posture in a mirror. People with UCS have hunched backs and they carry their heads further forward than someone without it (think Disney’s Quasimodo without the unflattering outfit).

In the early stages of UCS, most people don’t experience any pain. So if you’ve got twinges (or full-blown pain) in your upper back and neck, the condition has already progressed (although there are many reasons for neck and and upper back pain so all need to be investigated and addressed). The pain you are feeling is caused by tightness in the muscles in your upper back and the stress of carrying your head a little too far forward. If left untreated, you may to start get some tension headaches as well —lucky you!


The good news is that UCS is treatable and, if you have been experiencing UCS symptoms or you are worried about your posture, you can seek treatment from a medical practitioner. Osteopaths, chiropractors and remedial massage therapists are all able to diagnose and treat the condition.

Your healthcare professional will give you a list of exercises designed to help you slowly built up the strength in your weak muscles and correct your posture. It is important to recognise that any improvement will not happen overnight. Strengthening weakened muscles and loosening tight ones takes time, patience and dedication. You may also look into postural exercise such as Pilates, Yoga and Chi Kung.

Avoiding UCS

Or you can stop it before it starts. Avoiding UCS is all about being aware of your posture. Pay attention to how you are sitting and avoid collapsing into the upper crossed rounded bearing as much as possible.

When you are standing, try to get into the habit of clasping your hands behind your back. Sure, you’ll look like an old fashioned teacher, but you’ll lengthen out tight muscles and correct the upper crossed posture.

If you do work at a desk, elevate your keyboard. If you are surfing on a tablet, hold it at head height or lie out on the floor. Basically, any position that stops you from tilting your head down, curving your shoulders and rotating your arms forward will help you beat UCS.

For more information in exercises to assist in relieving postural issues contact Jo at Revitalize Lifestyle for a consultation on 0417 549218 or

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