Texting whilst walking

With busy lifestyles and technology which is only continuing to advance, there are more and more studies being conducted which investigate the use of mobile phones, particularly smart phones, whilst on the move.

 

Anecdotal evidence is indicating that use of smart phones while on the move substantially increases the risk of injuries.

 

A recent study by Agostini et al (2015) opined that in recent literature many safety concerns on distracted walking have been raised. It has often been postulated that the allocation of attentional resources toward a secondary task can influence dynamic stability. In the double task of walking and texting it was found that gait speed is reduced, but the authors stated that there was scarce evidence of a modified motor control strategy compromising stability.

 

As part of their study, Agostini et al (2015) set out to:

1). Comprehensively examine the gait modifications occurring when texting while walking, including the study of the lower limb muscle activation patterns

2). Specifically assess the co-contraction of ankle antagonist muscles.

 

The authors theorised that texting while walking increases co-contractions of ankle antagonist muscles when the body weight is transferred from one lower limb to the other, to improve the distal motor control and joint stabilisation.

 

Eighteen healthy young adults, aged from 20 to 30 years were recruited for the study, all of whom were assessed in a well-lit room, over a straight path of 15 m. Subjects were asked to walk back and forth along the path, at their natural pace, for 3 minutes (both whilst texting and not texting).

 

 Texting while walking pic

The authors concluded that young adults showed, overall, small gait modifications that could be mainly ascribable to gait speed reduction and a modified body posture due to phone handling. There were no significant alterations of ankle and knee kinematics and a slightly delayed activation onset of the left gastrocnemius lateralis. However, an increased co-contraction of tibialis anterior and gastrocnemius lateralis, especially during mid-stance was found. Moreover, they expressed that when texting whilst walking, there is an adjustment of the motor control strategy aimed at increasing ankle joint stability in a specific and “critical” phase of the gait cycle, when the body weight is transferred from one leg to the other.

 

While the study did not look at the additional impacts that poor lighting, uneven ground or stair/ escalator use may have on the above measures, it would be reasonable to assume that these influences would likely result in slower walking speed and further adjustments of motor control strategies. Considering the increased use of smartphones within workplaces, employers may need to start considering the introduction of preventative measures to minimise the risk of injuries sustained from smartphone use when walking.

 

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Ref: Agostini V, Lo Fermo F, Massazza G, Knaflitz M. Does texting while walking really affect gait in young adults? Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (2015) 12:86

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The comments above are the implicit advice of Workplace Physiotherapy. The views expressed are based on current evidence-based research and accepted best practice approaches. Unless otherwise stated, these comments are not the view of WorkCover NSW or any other professional body. No reproduction or forwarding of this advice is permitted without the consent of the author.

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