• Duncan Sutcliffe // MSc Sport Science

Excessive use of electronics and sporting performance


Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Emails... An endless list of reasons to be mentally and physically connected to your electronic devices. You could be at work scrolling through your emails or lying in bed while going through various social media posts. The question we should be asking ourselves is: what effects does it really have on your body and sporting performances?

FORWARD HEAD

Evolution has allowed for various biomechanical transformations which have led to improved movement efficiency, especially in terms of gait mechanics[1]. A problem arises when electronic devices begin to reverse our biomechanical transformations. Forward-head, rounded-shoulder posture (FHRSP) is defined as “excessive anterior orientation of the head or glenohumeral joint relative to the vertical plumb line of the body”[2,3]. Unfortunately, as the need for constant use of various technological devices increases, poor posture in the shoulder and neck region has become a common occurrence. As shown in figure 1, when the head is shifted forwards, additional forces are being placed on the upper back and neck region. When the head is shifted forwards by 60 degrees, an added 27,21 kg of force is attained[4].

So, what does this mean for sportsmen and women? According to the Chicago fitness & recovery centre, a forward head posture results in increased muscle activation to keep the chin off the chest.5 Furthermore, a FHRSP posture may lead to a reduction in vital lung capacity by 30% which limits the amount of oxygen supplied to the muscles during exercise. This postural imbalance also results in reduced blood flow to the brain which is an essential aspect during physical activity[5]. It was determined that a bent posture ultimately increases the mean electromyography (EMG) reading of all muscles involved[1]. This means that with bent postures, muscles have to work much harder than they are supposed to for a given task. Furthermore, in terms on contact sports like rugby, many head injuries are the result of inefficient conditioning of the neck. It was emphasized that neck strength is an essential aspect to decrease the risk of concussion during contact[6].

SLEEP

Have you ever wondered why your cell phone has a night shift mode? The blue light released from electronic devices has negative consequences on your sleep quality. It has been suggested that the blue light emitted from electronic devices can cause increases in alertness, evening fatigue, and concentration[7]. All these factors may inhibit sleep quality, which is an essential component for any sportsmen and women. One study found that 60% of participants took their phones to bed, resulting in a longer sleep latency, poor sleep efficiency, more disturbed sleep, and more daytime dysfunction[8]. Lance Armstrong once said that 6-8 hours of sleep is essential for improved concentration, mood and sport performance. This was supported by a study that emphasized that adults should consistently sleep 7 or more hours per night for improved health and wellbeing[9].

PAIN

I’m sure you have heard of the saying “no pain, no gain.” Sometimes pain can provide evidence that your exercise plan is effective, but in terms of forward head posture, pain is problematic. FHRSP is a complex postural irregularity that may result in unwanted pain and/or other pathological circumstances, commonly in the lower back region and neck[10]. From personal experience, back pain severely decreased my range of motion as well as the amount of force produced during various movements. In precision sports like golf, it is extremely difficult to swing a club with lower back or neck pain. I would much rather reschedule my weekend golf day than swing in agony and shoot a horrible score.

CONFIDENCE

The physical components of sporting performances are only one side of the spectrum. “Poor posture as a result of excessive cell phone use may reinforce poor body image and reduce self-confidence”[11]. It has been suggested that individuals with poor posture appear to be less well, often possessing poor self-image and self-confidence[12]. Furthermore, cyber-bullying is a threat many individuals face on a daily basis. From being ridiculed on social media or spam emails are sent around the office about your personal life, which may result in reductions in self-confidence and self-image. It is important to remember that self-confidence has a major role in the mental state of the individual during sporting preparations and competitions. It may be extremely difficult to manage the social media usage of sportsmen and women. Therefore, the coaching and support staff should be aware of the impact of social media and try managing it through effective education and promoting a healthy team culture.

In conclusion, as the technological field is expanding, so will the regular usage of electronic devices. Without a doubt, smartphones have become an essential part of our daily lives. The problem is that excessive usage may lead to reductions of normal curvature and increased stresses on the cervical spine, which may lead to possible muscular degenerations[4]. In other words, we are becoming more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is less than ideal. So how are we going to find a solution? It was explained that completely sidestepping the use of technology is not the answer, but rather improving the way in which we use the devices is the key[4]. When looking at your electronic device, I encourage you to be mindful of your posture, try maintaining a neutral spine and avoid hunching.

  1. Grasso R, Zago M, Lacquaniti F. Interactions between posture and locomotion: motor patterns in humans walking with bent posture versus erect posture. J. Neurophysiol. 2000;83:288-300.

  2. Lewis JS, Green A, Wright C. Subacromial impingement syndrome: the role of posture and muscle imbalance. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2005a;14(4):385–392.

  3. Lewis JS, Wright C, Green A. Subacromial impingement syndrome: the effect of changing posture on shoulder range of movement. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2005b;35(2):72–87.

  4. Hansraj KK. Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surg Technol Int. 2014 Nov;25(25):277-9.

  5. Chicago fitness & recovery center - http://edgeathletelounge.com/blog/69077/How-Posture-is-Impacting-Your-Performance

  6. Eckner JT, Oh YK, Joshi MS, Richardson JK, Ashton-Miller JA. Effect of neck muscle strength and anticipatory cervical muscle activation on the kinematic response of the head to impulsive loads. The American journal of sports medicine. 2014 Mar;42(3):566-76.

  7. James LM. Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health. 2008 Aug 1;34(4):297.

  8. Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Bedtime mobile phone use and sleep in adults. Social Science & Medicine. 2016 Jan 1;148:93-101.

  9. Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, Dinges DF, Gangwisch J, Grandner MA, Kushida C, Malhotra RK, Martin JL. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2015 Jun 15;11(06):591-2

  10. Cole AK, McGrath ML, Harrington SE, Padua DA, Rucinski TJ, Prentice WE. Scapular bracing and alteration of posture and muscle activity in overhead athletes with poor posture. Journal of athletic training. 2013 Jan;48(1):12-24.

  11. Tattersall R, Walshaw MJ. Posture and cystic fibrosis. Journal of the royal society of medicine. 2003;96(Suppl 43):18.

  12. Watson AWS. Physical fitness and athletic performance. 2nd edition. London: Longman; 1995;63-65

#Posture #Technology #Biomechanics #Sleep

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