Dubai: Tech neck, texting thumb, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel wrist, dry eyes, tingling ears .... these are the names of some of the most common aches and pains in today’s health lexicon. Thanks to near-constant use of computers, smart phones and other tech gadgets, men, women and children, the latter even as young as four, are suffering from one or more of these problems, say doctors.
Over 70 per cent people in urban areas worldwide suffer lower back pain and neck and spine issues, owing to the sedentary lifestyle that comes with excessive tech use.
The obsession with the electronic world of tablets, smart phones, gaming consoles, laptops and computers is directly proportionate to the extent of injuries to muscles, tendons and nerves that it is damaging. Neurosurgeons and orthopaedic doctors are cautioning us that constant use of these gadgets is not only compressing our nerves, but changing the curvature of our cervical joints and also causing irreparable damage to our limbs, eyes and other sensory organs.
Let’s take a look at how our bodies are impacted by this problem.
1. The texter’s thumb
Our thumb is one of most important digits of our hand. When we surf, swipe and text all through the day, the thumb is overused; it results in pain, swelling and tenderness at the base of the thumb.
Dr Mahesh Kumar, specialist orthopaedics at Prime Medical Centre, Al Barsha, explained: “The tendons and joints of our thumb get damaged and the thumb becomes painful because repetitive and stressful movements.”
Until the advent of mobile texting, our thumbs were never put through so much work.
2. Carpal tunnel syndrome
This happens owing to an extension of the thumb injury. When the thumb is overused and the wrist constantly arched at angles to facilitate texting or clicking on gaming consoles, the swelling and tenderness at the base of the thumb extends to the wrist.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow tunnel formed by the bones and tissues of the wrist. This tunnel protects the median nerve, which gives us sensation in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. Pain occurs if ligaments and tendons in the carpal tunnel get swollen or inflamed, which place pressure on the median nerve, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
According to Dr Srinivas Janga, specialist neurosurgeon at Prime Hospital, “The constant use of the thumb compresses the nerves between ligaments of the thumb, the wrist and the forearm. As a result, the patient experiences numbness in the thumb and the first two fingers.” The nerves most affected are the median ones causing pain in the palm and a tingling sensation in the hand.
The tendons and joints of our thumb get damaged and the thumb becomes painful because repetitive and stressful movements
3. Mouse Wrist and Mouse Shoulder
Depending on the shape of the computer mouse, people usually develop ‘a palm grip’, ‘claw grip’ or ‘tip grip’. Computer designers and doctors agree that the ‘palm grip’ where one holds the mouse as if it were a door knob is the most comfortable grasp giving rest to the fingers which are draped over the curve of the mouse. However, slimmer or tapering mouses result in the user holding it in a claw-like grip or closing on it with the finger tips. This results in the fingers and the wrist undergoing strain.
Dr Kumar elaborates: “Constant dragging and clicking of the mouse tenses the tendons on the wrist and forearm and such repetitive strain causes pain and swelling on the wrist.
According to Dr Janga: “In many cases, the constant slouching over the computer screen along with the wrong grip results in the pain travelling to the shouder blades, resulting in stiffness and soreness of the upper arm, elbow and shoiulder.”
4. Tech Neck
One of the most damaging aspects of bad postures and constant work on screens is the crouching position of the neck that not only causes strain to the cervical nerves and the shoulder blades, it also results in shortening of the neck and shoulder muscles over a long period of overuse.
According to Dr Kumar: ‘Constantly keeping the upper torso in that crunched-up position without a proper stretch causes the shoulder muscles to become stiff and shorten. These long-term injuries are a combination of muscle-tendon and nerve injuries damaging the curvature of the spine.”
5. Tablet Biceps
Very often, people prefer to lie or semi-incline in positions on seats of buses, cars or even on the floor to be able to hold up their tablet or smart phone to watch a video clip or watch a movie. This unnatural position causes the biceps to be held for long in a strenuous pattern resulting in the shortening of biceps muscles and also leading to neck strain.
6. Kindle Strain
This happens typically when an individual reads an electronic book in bed, seated in a horizontal posture, propping the neck on many pillows and unnecessarily straining the neck muscles, resulting in degeneration of the tendons and nerves. Many of us are guilty of reading in bed in such unnatural postures, says Dr Janga. “The nerves in the cervical region get affected by these wrong postures resulting in pain and stiffness first, followed by numbing.”
7. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
This is the kind of strain that an individual gets in the eyes due to constant gaming in dark rooms for long hours.
Dr Janga says: “Focusing for long hours on the lighted screen, blinking less than what one should causes the pupils to get fixed and the blue light can do long-term damage to the retina.” According to the American Opthalmology Association, 70 per cent of people who sit in front of a lighted screen for more than two hours a day, suffer from CVS. This causes headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes apart from damage to the neck and spine.
The constant use of the thumb compresses the nerves between ligaments of the thumb, the wrist and the forearm. As a result, the patient experiences numbness in the thumb and the first two fingers.
Individuals who assume poor postures at work and look at computers that are adjusted to the eye level, damage the natural curvature of their neck and the spine and also have disc issues. “This condition is called Kyphosis, which essentially is excessive outward curvature of the spine owing to constant crouching,” says Dr Janga. “It leads to the degeneration of the neck and the spine.”
If left untreated, Kyphosis can result in loss of movement and numbness in the lower limbs of the body.
9. Standing Desk Pain
Many health-conscious people who make an effort to avoid a sedentary lifestyle have replaced their chairs and tables with standing desks.
Says Dr Kumar, “While standing desks are a good idea as it helps the individual to move and be on his feet, sometimes, people forget to distribute their weight, shifting it all to one leg. This results in the knee and tendon of one leg being bruised and injured. It also results in imbalanced pelvis leading to back pain.”
This is a bit controversial as many doctors do not agree that ear ringing can be caused by constant use of phone or the overuse of head phones. Tinnitus is the damage to the fine sensory hair cells on the cochlea in the inner ear which can lead to partial or total hearing loss. This can be hereditary or caused by constant exposure to loud noise, said Dr Janga.
However, in a study conducted by Occupational and Conventional Medical Groups in the US that included over 200 people, they made some discoveries. The group was split and about 100 people were allowed to use their phones while another 100 were without phones. Researchers found that a high number of people who used their phones freely, suffered from chronic tinnitus. Dr Janga added that while it might not be enough to draw conclusions based on one study, it was important to understand the potential hazard that constant use of phone posed in contributing to hearing loss.
Dr Gary Bartlett, London-based general practitioner
Do’s and don’ts to minimise tech-use related injuries
Stretch your limbs every hour. If your job involves using the computer for more than five hours at a stretch a day, take a break every hour. Walk around, stretch each limb to prevent shortening of the muscles over long periods of disuse. This also helps alleviate the strain on muscles and prevents compression of nerves.
Every half an hour, rotate your neck clockwise and anti-clockwise and give your hands and fingers a quick flexibility workout.
Practise regular stretching exercise for your neck, back, shoulder and upper limbs.
For correct posture, invest in an ergonomical chair that provides relaxed space to your limbs and an upright spine.
Make sure your computer screen is at an eye level so that there is no angling of the neck.
Use the right support for the wrist and elbow while doing desktop work.
Avoid smoking as this habit additionally damages nerves and their sensitivity.
(Source: Dr Srinivas Janga and Dr Mahesh Kumar)