While there are some benefits to smartphone technology, doctors are becoming concerned about some of the physical drawbacks and injuries associated with their use. Is it possible you’re doing yourself more harm than good?
Commonly Reported Smartphone Injuries
It’s pretty common for people to struggle with aches and pains throughout the day. While a lot of us can pinpoint the causes of our struggles, some are caused by repetitive motions we consider so insignificant we would never associate them with a problem. In many cases, people don’t experience pain from smartphone related injuries until the damage is really done. Do you struggle with any of the stress injuries, below?
Otherwise known as tech neck, this painful syndrome develops when people are constantly bending their heads to look down at their phones and tablets. It can even develop in people who are using computers that are not positioned at the correct eye level. According to a Surgical Technology International study, bending your head 45 degrees forward can put up to 50 pounds of additional pressure on your spine. This pulls at the muscles, tendons and ligaments, often resulting in painful misalignments.
According to the Nielsen data company, teens send more than 3,339 texts each month on average. Let’s break that down and put it into perspective — at that rate, the average teen is sending approximately 111 texts per day. The muscles and tendons become overworked from the fast-twitch movements required to text, leading to long-term pain and sometimes even nerve damage.
It gets worse. Texting thumb is also known as gaming thumb. An Ofcom study claims 77 percent of teens ages 12 to 15 spend an additional 12 hours a week playing games. Combine the two, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The more you text or game, the more likely you are to ultimately need pain management therapies, injections or even surgery.
You probably have the act of reaching your arm out to take the perfect selfie down to a science, right? Extending your arm, locking your elbow and twisting your wrist to get the right angle may seem skillful, but it puts a ton of strain on your tendons and joints — especially in the elbow area. The problem is further compounded by the extra pressure you put on your tendons when you try to hit the “photo” button while already in the extended position, ultimately resulting in strains and long-term damage.
The size of the average smartphone has changed drastically over the years. Minimalists love the smallest screen they can find, while those enamored with video and design often opt for larger screens. Holding a larger phone in one hand can lead to hand strain and swelling if overused. You may also end up with a slight indentation from pressing the phone into your hand, but it usually goes away after a few minutes and isn’t an actual injury.
Some people believe holding a larger phone leads to what is referred to as “smartphone pinky,” a condition that causes the pinky finger to become curved and deformed. We have good news and bad news about this particular ailment, though. Hand surgeons don’t think these pinky finger deformities are caused by holding the phones, a problem they believe would take many years of constant, strong gripping. They do think most of the people with pinky problems likely had a preexisting condition known as Dupuytren’s contracture. Dupuytren’s contracture develops slowly as you age, causing skeletomuscular tissues in the hands to get stiff. While holding a phone may aggravate the condition, it likely isn’t the cause.
Preventing Smartphone Injuries
The reality is that a lot of people don’t realize they’re holding their bodies in awkward positions until it’s too late. Teens absorbed in video games, for example, can spend hours in one position without thought of anything else. There are some things you can do to prevent smartphone and related tech injuries, though.
- Stretch every morning, including your arm, shoulder, neck and hand muscles. These muscle groups are most likely to be impacted by the use of technology.
- Take extra stretch breaks every couple of hours throughout the day to prevent muscle tension.
- Walk away and take breaks from your phone, whether you’re working, texting or playing games. Taking a few minutes away will give your eyes a much-needed rest as well.
- Grab a smartphone stand you can leave on your desk and adjust to eye level. You won’t strain your neck as much looking down and you won’t have to constantly grip your phone at different angles.
- Use a light touch when on your smartphone. You don’t have to hold it with a death grip and you don’t have to forcefully tap the screen. Easing up will put less pressure on your joints.
- Use voice dictation when possible to avoid thumb and finger typing.
- Hold your phone in one hand and type with the index finger of the other hand to avoid thumb strain.
Summing It Up
Some smartphone injuries are more common than others. Doctors report seeing injuries like gamer’s thumb, or texting thumb, far more often than things like selfie elbow. That said, it’s still important to become more conscious of the way we use smartphones and other forms of technology on a daily basis.
- Check your smartphone’s settings to find out how many hours per day you actively use it. Use that information to gauge your personal habits.
- Don’t rely on selfie sticks. Many people still extend their elbows, putting the same amount of strain on their arms as they do holding the phone alone.
- Repetitive use injuries aren’t the only, or even the primary, concern. Cell phone use while driving has been attributed to more than 1.6 million accidents each year.
- Texting and walking has been reported to cause up to 11,100 injuries annually; as well as approximately 5,375 pedestrian deaths.
While medical professionals are concerned about the increase in repetitive use injuries they’re seeing, researchers still need to dig deeper into the overall long-term impacts these conditions may have on our health. Until then, be conscientious of the amount of time you spend on your phone and be mindful of your posture.
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