The average individual today loves technology, and they use a lot of it, in fact, they basically can’t do without it. Technology has become an integral part of our existence. In Nigeria, the average working-class person sends tons of emails daily, spends about 23 hours a week texting and scampering through social media. The average gamer age 13 years or older spend nearly 6.5 hours a week playing video games. We are basically ‘Tech Humans’ now!
In short, we give our hands, arms and elbows a workout without even realizing it. And just like athletic activities, repetitive keystrokes and mouse clicks may put us at risk of injury or aggravate already existing conditions. This character of ours has turned into a real pain in the neck!
Robert Wysocki, MD, a hand, wrist and elbow surgeon at Rush, says many Rush patients have noticed that other joint or tendon problems seem to have developed or worsened after repetitive smartphone or computer use. Fortunately, many of these conditions are highly treatable.
1. Gamers Thumb
Commonly referred to as ‘tech thumb’ is not a clearly defined condition, but it usually refers to one of two things,” Wysocki says.
- Trigger thumb
The first of these things is trigger thumb, the constriction of a flexor tendon in the thumb, may result from repetitive gripping motions such as texting or holding a smartphone. Its symptoms includes; painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens; sometimes the thumb even becomes locked in a curled position.
If you have thumb pain or stiffness that seems to worsen with use of a smartphone, Wysocki recommends changing the way you use the device. For example, hold your phone with the hand you use less frequently or type messages with your index finger to give your thumbs a rest.
- Thumb arthritis
Arthritis of the carpometacarpal joint, where the thumb connects to the wrist, is the other condition sometimes called texting thumb. Arthritis of the thumb, on the other hand is a more serious condition that can require surgery. Wysocki is quick to point out that thumb arthritis hasn’t been linked to technology habits. Doctors do not yet know whether smartphone use can cause the condition. So if you are a smartphone addict with thumb pain, it’s more likely you have the less serious trigger thumb.
2. Cubital tunnel syndrome
Thumbs aren’t the only joints to bear the brunt of technology.
Elbows can suffer as well if you spend too much time holding a phone to your ear, resting your elbow on a desk, or keeping your arm bent at an acute angle to use a computer mouse. These positions can contribute to cubital tunnel syndrome, or increased tension in the tunnel through which the ulnar nerve passes in the elbow.
The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling in the ring and small finger and soreness in the inside of the elbow or forearm. To relieve these problems, Wysocki recommends avoiding pressure on the back of the elbow or using padding if you need to rest it on a hard surface. It’s also important to avoid positions that keep your elbow flexed for long periods of time. It can also help to sleep in a splint that keeps your elbows from bending too much.
3. Tech Neck
This can be called the “cyber slouch,” and has unknowingly caused so much damage to our health. Almost everyday we have to deal with chronic upper back, neck, shoulder and headache pain and we normally think it is because we just work too hard in general. But no, it’s all due to how much time we spend slouching behind the laptop or hovering over smartphones.
According to Andrew Lui, a physical therapist; one quick way to see if you might be suffering from tech neck is to look at your profile sideways in a mirror. If your ears are not lined up with your shoulders, your posture may be promoting chronic pain. If left untreated, tech neck can cause problems including headaches, pinched nerves, arthritis, bone spurs and muscular deformation, disc degeneration and nerve complications.
4. Email eye
Also called Digital Eye Strain. This starts as splitting headache and itchy eyes after pulling long hours staring at a computer display. It is one of the annoying side effect of a typical long office workday. Your zombified screen stare can also cause chronic health problems over time, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA)
Symptoms of digital eye strain can also include blurred vision and even seeing double, the AOA notes. Your eyes simply weren’t made to stare at a screen for hours, but that’s the reality for anyone whose job revolves around a computer.
Some Practical Prevention Tips
Want to prevent future problems? Here are a few ideas for both adults and children:
1. Get some thumb rest:
Use your forefinger to text or try the voice feature on your phone to send messages. Stretch, open and close your fingers throughout the day to keep your tendons nimble. Wrist circles can also help. Call, don’t text. Try talking rather than texting or emailing. Track your smart phone usage and think of ways you can cut back.
Consider what is important and what isn’t. For example, if you find yourself spending more time with your phone than your friends and it bothers you, start putting away the phone during dinner and enjoy some face-to-face conversation with an old pal
2. The “20-20-20” rule:
According to the AOA group, for every 20 minutes you spend staring at the screen, look away for 20 seconds at something that is 20 feet away. This simple habit gives your eyes a much-needed break, allowing them to refocus and refresh before diving back in for another 20 minutes of computer time.
The group also recommends that you’re at least arm’s length from your screen and, if that’s too far to comfortably read text on the screen, simply increase the font size in your computer’s settings. If you wear glasses, consider anti-reflective coating when you buy your next pair, and it’ll cut down on glare even more.
Think about your body as much as you think about your work. Make sure your workstation fits your body, rather than the other way around: the scrunch, hunch, slouch, lean, tilt, and slump that so many of us fall into does much more harm to our health than we can possibly imagine.