St Paul MN Chiropractor
In the last several decades, modern technology has brought people together in many new ways. But it is also taking a toll on our bodies and our health. Chiropractors are warning against new health risks for an increasingly technology-focused culture.
New Technology, New Health Issues?
As we continue to be enamored by today’s high-tech gadgets, the amount of time we are spending on our computers, cell phones, ipods, and video games may be resulting in physical aches – such as back pain, neck pain and headaches.
Everywhere you turn, you see people frantically thumbing out text messages on their smartphones. Many of us have moved from phone calls and e-mails to text messaging as a means of quick check-ins with our spouses, children, colleagues and friends.
Running late for a business lunch — send a text with your ETA. Waiting outside the school to pick up your teen — text a message to get her moving. Need your husband to pick up milk and a loaf of bread on the way home — text your grocery list.
All this technology has changed our lives. They may have made things simpler, but it all comes at a price. These Hi-tech gadgets are leaving us with injuries, some of which can be extremely debilitating.
All of this has given rise to new ailments like “BlackBerry Thumb”, “Text Neck”, “Text Messaging Syndrome”, also known as “teen texting tendonitis” or “texting thumb” (often called trigger finger, trigger thumb, stenosing tenovaginitis), a painful condition caused by the inflammation (tenosynovitis) of the fluid-filled sheath (called the synovium) that surrounds a tendon.
Text messaging, or texting, is a relatively new activity and repetitive strain injuries develop over time, so documented cases of TMI are limited. The biggest sufferers are college students and young adults who chat online, use text messaging, and play video games extensively. The problem is also seen in adult users who feel compelled to answer business emails “24/7” to stay on top of overwhelming workloads.
The tendons and muscles that support the movement of the thumb are very strong but are not designed for the intense repetitive texting activity in cramped positions that are required for handheld devices and smartphones. Muscle fatigue, strain and prolonged muscle tension can lead to aches and pain in the muscles and tendons and may also affect the flexibility of the thumb. Over time, excessive repetitive use can also cause tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) and also lead to premature arthritis due to wear on the joint. Most of these ailments are relatively minor but can become serious if precautions are not taken.
Research has shown that the loads on the little muscles of the thumbs as they are whizzing through the 40 character messages are under a significant amount or mechanical stress. It’s no surprise that the overuse of our hands and wrists have triggered a carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis epidemic.
Along with the multitude of other technological devices that rely solely on your hands, now iPod users are beginning to have thumb pain. The iPod and iPad are perhaps the most famous hand-held devices to be pointed out for causing repetitive stress injury (RSI).
Dubbed ‘iPad hand’, users have complained of aches and pains in the hand they hold the device with and in their fingers after typing on and swiping the screen. Owners are being warned not to type on an iPad for long stretches to avoid the i-injuries.
And then throw in “cell phone elbow” for extra measure. This is the latest over-use or repetitive motion injury to join the Digital Age list that is causing pain, weakness and parasthesias of the arms. These symptoms are now commonly being referred to as CELL PHONE ELBOW from too much yakking on the phone (AKA cubital tunnel syndrome).
Medically known as cubital tunnel syndrome, cell phone elbow is numbness, tingling and pain in the forearm and hand caused by compression of the ulnar nerve, (commonly known as the “funny bone”) which passes along the bony bump on the inside of the elbow. This compression of the nerve often leads to a tingling or ‘pins and needles’ sensation in the little and ring fingers. Most cases will be minor and tend to come and go with time.
The problem arises as people keep their elbows bent greater than 90 degrees and/or allow pressure to be placed directly on the ulnar nerve as it passes around the underside of the elbow (especially with resting on the arm while talking on the phone). Prolonged bending of the elbow causes blood flow to the nerve to be cut off, eventually leading to such severe symptoms as muscle atrophy, weakness, further pain and clawing of the ulnar digits (affecting our daily activities such as typing and writing).
And too much yakking isn’t the only cause of cubital tunnel syndrome. Other causes may include sleeping with the elbows bent and tucked up into the chest, or sitting at a desk with the elbows flexed at an angle greater than 90 degrees. Anyone who’s leaning on their elbow during the day a lot … can get compression injury to this nerve.
This condition is also known as drivers elbow, often time caused by resting or bracing the elbow on the arm rest of vehicles over extended periods of time.
Elderly people who rest their elbows on the arm of a chair can develop the syndrome as can people who use wheelchairs who lean on their elbow.
In most cases, minor lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms, including using a hands-free headset for your cell phone. If sleep position is the problem, an elbow pad to keep the arm straighter at night can help. Chiropractic, massage therapy and/or physical therapy can also provide relief.
Ergonomic design appears to be an afterthought for cell phone makers. Most companies are technology driven and have little or no concept of the principles of human factors and ergonomics and how to integrate them into product design.
So what’s an iPad-cradling, smartphone-texting, laptop-loving guy or gal to do?
Users need to be aware of their limits and to take care of their bodies. RSI can occur with any tool when used too long in an awkward position. It’s important to pay attention to your workspace ergonomics to make sure you’re not putting any extra stress on your elbows, thumb and hands. Many times, small changes in the work area can have a big impact on your health.
Be aware of your body. Keep your feet flat on the floor, roll your shoulders back and keep your ears directly over them so your head isn’t tilted forward. Use a docking station and wrist guards to support the weight of a mobile device. Buy a headset.
TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS TO STRETCH and RELAX.
This means both momentary breaks every few minutes and longer breaks every hour or so. Pace and plan your computer work. Fidget a lot! Here are some GIF animations of some stretches you can do, courtesy of David Brown (1) & the New Zealand Occupational Safety and Health Service. -> #1 , #2 , #3 , #4 , #5 , #6 , #7 , #8 , #9 , #10 . (Don’t do these at the speed displayed. Easy does it.) Notice that several stretches involve the neck & shoulders, which have more involvement with typing injuries than you might imagine. From the same source, here are some still pictures of exercises/stretches to do. #1 , #2 , #3 , #4 , #5 .
Virgin Mobile also offers a list of five “textercises” for your thumb, hand, chest, and arm to ward off soreness from texting.