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HomeTechYou’re holding your phone wrong

You’re holding your phone wrong

Heather Kelly

When people warn about the dangers of screen time, they are usually thinking about its impact on mental health or interpersonal relationships.

What about the physical issues that come with clasping a metal rectangle in your hand for hours at a time? Or holding it close to your face so you can make out your poorly lit streaming TV shows clearly?

There are so many ways a phone can impact your health, beyond toxic content, that smartphone makers are building in tools to help counteract it. Before you get carpal tunnel syndrome, a case of eyestrain or another migraine, try some small changes.

Here are some things experts say you should be doing differently when using your smartphone, organized by body part.

Your hands

We talk a lot about the right and wrong way to type or sit at a desk, but how should you be clutching your favorite little screen?

The key is keeping a neutral wrist position, says Lauren Shapiro, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California at San Francisco. That means the wrist is straight or has just a light bend in it.

“Flexing the wrist, extending the wrist, and a tight grip or grasp will put more stress and strain on the body,” says Shapiro.


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She recommends taking breaks to avoid extended periods of use. Make sure your phone isn’t too big for your hand and opt for hands-free tools when possible, such as voice dictation or a phone call instead of texting.

If you are using an attachment on the back of your phone to hold it, make sure you’re not resting the entire weight of your phone on one spot, like a single finger.

There’s not enough research to make a direct causal link between hand injuries and the increase in phone use, Shapiro says. However, it’s likely that holding a smartphone or tablet incorrectly and too often could contribute to issues such as thumb arthritis, carpal tunnel and tendinitis.

Call your doctor if you are experiencing numbness and tingling, clicking or locking of the fingers, or persistent or severe pain and or numbness in the hand, arm or shoulder on your phone-holding side.

The ideal way to hold a phone may be not holding it at all. Prop it up or use a stand that doubles as a charger and place it around eye level.

Your ears

Before you start blasting “Pink Pony Club” over your headphones, make sure you aren’t dialing the volume up too far and risking hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends keeping the noise under 70 decibels. On an iPhone, you can choose the maximum volume under the Sounds & Haptics → Headphone Safety setting. You can also control a child’s maximum volume in the Screen Time controls. On an Android device, you can find options in the Sounds and Vibrations settings.

Your eyes

Staring at a smartphone or tablet screen for extended periods of time can cause eyestrain. The fix is distance, breaks and a little sunshine.

When you’re looking at your phone, it should be at least a foot away from your face to prevent eyestrain, says Raj Maturi, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist at Midwest Eye Institute. Take a break from looking at the screen about every 20 minutes, but don’t just stare at your wall. Go outside.

“When you’re outside in bright sun, your pupils go down to a very small size,” Maturi says. “This automatically relieves the pressure on your eyes.”

You can try the 20-20-20 rule, which is taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to stare at something at least 20 feet away from you. You can also take longer but less frequent breaks. However you go about it, make sure you find ways to let your irises and pupils relax.

In addition to eyestrain, staring at screens too much could contribute to more permanent eye problems, especially in younger users, experts say. There isn’t enough evidence yet to tie extended phone and screen use to a rise in myopia, but Maturi says the correlation is quite strong.

Apple has an optional feature called Screen Distance in Settings → Screen Time that will warn you when your screen is too close to your face.

Your heart

Phones were built to be portable, but often they can keep us inert, glued to our chairs or rotting in our beds.

If your phone usage is getting in the way of regular physical activity, start scheduling breaks. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adults should get 2½ to 5 hours of moderate aerobic activity every week. Short on time? Try 75 minutes of more intense activity. Sprinkle it throughout the week so you are, at the bare minimum, getting your heart going 30 minutes every day.

The benefits of regular exercise is well documented. But it can help reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It can also help lower cholesterol, increase energy levels, help with conditions that impact cognition and even improve mental health.

Dealing with phone separation anxiety? Take it with you! Listen to music or a podcast while you walk or run errands, but keep your phone in your pocket.

Your brain

A screen can trigger tension headaches or migraines in someone who suffers from them, according to Charles Flippen II, associate dean of the Center for Continuing Professional Development at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles.

Some of the reasons include not moving enough, your neck position, a sensitivity to light and a decrease in how often you are blinking, which dries out the eyes.

The fix, as you may have guessed by now, is using your device in moderation and taking regular breaks. If you’re light sensitive, you can turn down the brightness or avoid looking at a bright screen in a dark room. To avoid straining your neck, make your phone as close to eye level as possible.

There’s another huge way our smartphones are impacting our brains: They’re eating into our sleep. Flippen, who is the Richard D. and Ruth P. Walter Professor of Neurology, recommends no screens in bed and for at least an hour before you go to sleep. If you have to look — and do you, really? — turn on settings to minimize blue light, which could suppress the production of melatonin. On iOS devices, turn on the Night Shift setting. On Android devices, go to the Display settings and look for the blue light or night settings.

“For good rest, you want to clear your head of all the leftovers from the day and the best way to do that is just to put the phone down,” Flippen says.

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