Are your eyes glued to your phone as you search for an animated creature throughout the crowded streets? If so, you’re like the millions of other casual gamers that have become part of the latest rage – Pokémon Go! But playing this game on your smartphone may come with potential health risks. The National Safety Council came out with a statement this week regarding safety concerns, urging pedestrians to use caution while playing the game. In a recently released statement, the Council says distracted walking has contributed to over 11,000 injuries in the last decade! As a physical therapist, I note the obvious risk for Pokémon Go players – potential collision with another person or object in the street. But as a clinician who deals with musculoskeletal issues, I cringe as I watch what I will call the “Pokémon Go Posture” that users demonstrate while playing.
THE “Pokémon GO POSTURE”
What is the Pokémon Go posture? As people walk the streets focused on their phones engulfed by this latest craze – observe their posture. They are holding the phone up in front of their body with their shoulders and elbows in a sustained position and their head pitched forward as they eagerly wait for a character to appear on their phone. As they tense up with excitement searching for exotic creatures, they are also tensing up their biceps, upper shoulder and neck muscles. After a lengthy game, this sustained posture can contribute to feelings of stiffness and soreness in the muscles of the neck and shoulder.
Studies have shown that working on computers and smart phones can contribute to a “forward head” posture. This position, where your head is pitched more forward than usual, increases the load on your neck. It also fosters muscle imbalances that can lead to strain of the tendons, ligaments, discs, and muscles in your neck and upper shoulders. It may even contribute to muscle tension that triggers headaches.
Pokémon GO– A BALANCING ACT?
So how is this any different than texting and walking? Technically, they are very similar. Both drive the smartphone user into poor postural situations that may lead to achy necks, shoulders and forearms and may also affect a person’s balance. This “slumping” type of posture shifts the center of gravity of the head in a forward direction. Over a prolonged period, this change in center of gravity can affect your body’s balancing ability. One study showed how people reading or typing on their phones while walking were less able to walk a straight line compared to those not on their phones. Researchers attributed this to decreased awareness of their visual field. They also suggest vestibular input is hampered by an altered head position and head motion while reading the phone. Those findings, along with the notion that Pokémon Go’ers are focused at looking at the augmented reality through their phone rather than focused visually and cognitively on their immediate surroundings, sets up the risk for a potential collision, misstep or fall over an obstacle.
Even if you aren’t a part of the Pokémon Go phenomenon – and you still use a smartphone to walk and read or text simultaneously – be aware of your posture, your surroundings, and be careful.
Obviously, if you choose to participate in this latest craze the key is to use common sense and remain aware of surroundings while walking. However, if you really want to be a Pokémon master, you may want to TONE UP TO ENHANCE YOUR GAMING ENDURANCE.
Here are a few exercises to help build upper body strength to help address some neck stiffness and improve posture and address balance:
Balance: Heel to Toe Walk
• Stand with heel of one foot in front of toes of the other foot. Try to make your heel and toes touch.
• Look forward and focus on a spot on the wall in front of you try to stay steady.
• Step placing your heel just in front of toe of your other foot.
• Repeat for 30 steps.
• Be sure someone is there to spot you or there is a sturdy table or object to hold onto in case you lose balance
Shoulder Blade Strengthening
• Stand with thumbs up
• Make a “V” formation as you lift hands up just above shoulder height
• Think of initiating exercise from the muscles around your shoulder blades
• Don’t let back arch and don’t shrug shoulders!
• Use a light to moderate weight to add resistance
• Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Doorway Pectoral Stretch
•Stand in doorway arms outstretched in a “T” formation resting on door frame
•Don’t apply too much pressure on hands
•Stand with one leg slightly forward
•Keep rib cage over hips and gently lean body forward
•Feel stretch in chest
•Hold 30 seconds
As always, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Amy McGorry, PT, DPT MTC, Received her Bachelor’s of Science in physical therapy from SUNY Stony Brook in 1991 and earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine in 2011. In 2005 Amy, completed an advanced certification in Orthopedic Manual Joint Manipulation from the University of St. Augustine. In addition to her clinical skills, Dr. McGorry is a freelance news reporter for Channel 12 and contributes medical articles, short videos and slideshows to health and wellness websites.