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Is mobile working damaging your health?

Is mobile working damaging your healthAdvances in technology have made working out of the office whilst travelling abroad, in the evenings or between meetings so much easier. But can remote mobile working have an impact on your health?

In the past, going to work predominantly meant going to the office, but thanks to improved technology, such as laptops, netbooks, tablets, mobile phones, iPhones and iPads, many people can successfully carry out their work at home, abroad or when on the move.

In fact, research carried out by Regus, involving over 2,700 business professionals, found that 65 per cent of people are now required to work on the move and that mobile working is now a mainstream part of numerous company flexible working plans.

Another recent poll by Regus revealed that two in five professionals work from locations other than the company’s main offices for at least half the week, every week. What’s more, over two fifths of workers report that they put in longer hours when they work flexibly and aren’t at their office desks.

Health impacts of out of office working

Whilst technology has certainly improved the ability to work remotely, and has helped firms boost productivity, are there downsides to your health from working in this way?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, instances of upper limb disorders, or repetitive strain injuries (RSI), are on the increase, with 198,000 cases reported between 2010 and 2011. One of the key culprits is thought to be laptops and netbooks, which, although convenient, can result in neck, back and shoulder problems.

“Wrist and hand repetitive strain injury can be caused by using keyboard devices or work phone keypads,” explains Dr Alasdair Wright, a GP and musculoskeletal expert.

“Continually focusing on computer screens and mobile devices, such as iPhones or iPads, can lead to eye strain and headaches, and neck and back strain can occur from sitting for long periods with a spine in a flexed position.”

Cases of so-called ‘texter’s thumb’ have increased, causing RSI type injuries from repeatedly using mobile phones or a Blackberry to send and receive texts or emails on mobile devices.

Working in different environments, such as hotel rooms, receptions, coffee shops or when travelling on trains, can be detrimental, especially when you’re sitting in an awkward position for a long time. “Long periods of inactivity can cause physical sluggishness and reduced exercise capacity,” says Dr Wright.

Long hours spent working, especially in the evenings, can disrupt sleep and induce mental tiredness.

It’s not just using technology that can have health implications, but carrying it on the move too. Research commissioned by the British Chiropractic Association found that almost a third of people typically carry two or more items of technology with them each day and nearly a quarter complain of back, neck or shoulder pain as a result.

How to prevent health damage from mobile working

When you’re working in an office, there are ergonomic checks to ensure your chair and desk are the optimum height and your screen and keyboard are suitably positioned to avoid unnecessary strain. It’s just as important to ensure your health isn’t compromised by out of office, mobile working.

To help you get the most out of remote mobile working, here are Dr Wright’s top tips.

Get the right seating position

Ensure your seating position is adequate, allowing you to sit straight ahead without the need to bend or hunch. “When using a computer device/screen or smartphone, hold it higher near to your shoulder level.”

Also, if you are planning a long car journey, read AXA PPP healthcare’s tips on achieving a back-friendly position in the car.

Avoid repetitive strain

Change the position and angle of your keyboard or smartphone often to help avoid repetitive strain. Listen to your body – if something starts to hurt, move position. “Ideally, position your hands in a neutral position, with your fingers straight out and wrist not bent too much.”

Look after your eyes

Stop close screen work from time to time. “Focusing on something in the distance for a few minutes regularly through the day will help avoid eye strain.”

Take breaks

Take regular breaks throughout the working day. “Add in at least 10 minutes of exercise three times daily. A brisk walk or a quick once up and down the stairs will help maintain muscle tone and good posture.”

Don’t work late

Avoid working late in the evening, especially in the two hours before you go to bed. “The mind needs a two hour period to unwind, before you can expect to get a restful sleep.”

If you do experience some form of strain, read AXA PPP healthcare’s tips on taking the pain out of strain.

Use days off wisely

Even if you have to work longer and more intensely at times, make sure you have full days off. Pushing yourself regularly in the evenings or weekends can be counterproductive. “A period of complete mental rest from work for 24 to 48 hours will leave you feeling happier, sharper and more able to cope with work pressures.”

If your company supports mobile, flexible working, then they may well offer advice and help on safe working, so it’s worth consulting HR.

A few useful exercises

Watch our video of Lucy Wyndham-Read for simple exercises to do in the office.


British Chiropractic Society

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