01 April 2014

How modern technology hurts you

Is the 21st century wreaking havoc on your health? Find out with this medical guide to gizmo-related aches and pains.

Sometimes it seems as if technology is trying to get back at us. It’s already messing with our minds – does it really make our lives speedier and easier or are we just suffering from a form of deluded digital dependency?

As everyday (and all-day) gadget use accelerates, the number of occupationally injured patients visiting doctors and physios is on the increase too. Here we identify some of life’s most technologically advanced ailments and offer tips on avoiding them:

Mobile elbow
Spending hours on your cellphone every day? Well, holding the phone to your ear can damage the ulnar nerve in your elbow, the nerve that “pings” when you hit your funny bone.

According to Dr Leon Benson of the American Academy of Orthopaedic surgeons, this nerve can get stressed out, which restricts the blood supply, and can cause tingling or, even worse, the inability to perform simple but detailed tasks such as writing or opening your cell to fish out the SIM card.

In extreme cases, mobile elbow can lead to cubital (elbow) and carpal (wrist) tunnel syndrome – an inability to grip objects, chronic pain and, in extreme cases, deformity of the little and ring fingers, which can require surgery.

Tech tip: Switch hands during long calls or use a hands-free kit.

Texter's thumb
In the past 10 years or so there has been a 40% increase in the number of children with a type of repetitive strain injury known as texter’s thumb. Also referred to as Nintenditis, Wii Thumb and iPod Finger, this is a painful inflammation of the thumb joint and tendons caused by constant button-bashing on phones or video games.

“When I started practising 20 years ago, fewer than 1% of my caseload was younger than I8,” physiotherapist Sammy Margo says. “Now up to 20% of my patients are in that age group. And very often they suffer from new conditions such as texter’s thumb.”

Tech tip: Take regular breaks from your cellphone, video games and TV remote. Or switch to the latest touch-screen technology.

Wii shoulder
This painful inflammation, identified by UK consultant paediatrician Dr Andrew Cowley, is an injury seen in patients whose only exercise is done with the help of a gaming console.

“It was just after Christmas and I asked a patient complaining of a painful shoulder: were you given Wii as a gift? He had,” Dr Cowley says.

The patient was prescribed a two-week break from the game and the pain vanished.

Tech tip: Gaming addicts should sign up for “Wiihab” by taking regular breaks from their Wii activity of choice. Here’s an idea: instead of playing virtual sport get outside once in awhile and try the real thing. Also, don’t overdo it if you’re exercising in front of a screen.

Mouse shoulder
Imagine your desk is a restaurant table – is your mouse where your drinking glass would be? If so, move it into a “healthier” position, where your knife or fork would go. Remember, using the mouse in the wrong position could give you muscle spasms in your mid-back or shoulder.

Tech tip: Sit up straight at your computer and align your body with the screen (don’t twist or sit at an angle). “Take regular breaks – at least two minutes every half hour,” physiotherapist Francie Bührmann says. “In your break, do large controlled movements with your arms – like swimming breaststroke in the air. Big flowing movements are good for your nerves and small repetitive movements are not!”  

Researchers in India have discovered that people who use headphones regularly to listen to music have thousands of times more bacteria in their ears than the rest of us. Bud earphones – the type found on iPods – form a plug over the ear, creating a warm, moist atmosphere that bugs just love. This can lead to earache.

Tech tip: Don’t share your earphones – and air your ears by removing your earphones once in a while. This will help to prevent bacteria from thriving.

- (Health24, March 2014)

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