Technology is a huge part of our daily lives–from work to play to school. We all use it, and it makes life easier and more fun in so many ways. But those devices and computers we love can also hurt our bodies if we’re not careful. Repetitive motion and bad habits in technology use can cause everything from a nuisance strain to more extreme injuries and chronic problems. In most cases, common sense changes in the way we use our technology can help. But in more serious cases, physical therapy is an excellent non-invasive option.
Here are a few things to think about when using smartphones, tablets, computers and video games:
Our mobile phones have revolutionized the ways we work and socialize and have opened up new worlds of information for users young and old alike. However, these amazing tools are also responsible for some really bad habits that can do significant damage to our bodies. Repetitive Stress Injuries (or RSI) can happen when you overuse your smartphone, and injury can also happen when you don’t pay attention to body position when using your device. Here are some of the more common injuries related to smartphone use:
- Texting thumb: the repetitive motion involved in texting can cause swelling in the tendons of the thumb and the side of the wrist. This condition is known as De Quervain Syndrome and is also referred to as “texting thumb.” Symptoms can include pain, tenderness, muscle spasms and swelling.
- Wrist and hand problems: according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, smartphone tendonitis is an emerging problem. Holding your smartphone in your hand in an awkward position for extended periods of time can irritate the wrist and forearm, AAO experts say.
- Neck and shoulder pain: take a look at just about any teen’s posture while using their smartphone and you’ll understand why neck and shoulder pain is one of the most common effects of smartphone overuse. Both young people and older adults alike spend more time than we realize looking down at our phones. This means bending your head down at a problematic angle which can lead to neck, shoulder and upper back pain.
- Elbow problems: You may not have made the connection, but according to the Cleveland Clinic, smartphone elbow is a thing. Holding your phone to your ear on a regular basis can strain the elbow. The clinic recommends using a headset to prevent this often unanticipated problem.
Computers are a fact of life at work and school for many of us, including elementary-aged children. Some of the most common injuries from computer use involve the wrist and the back.
- Wrist injuries: Keyboards have been around for a long time, and the effects of too much typing on the wrists and hands are well known, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other RSI. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a specific diagnosis related to the compression of the median nerve in the wrist. It often results from repetitive actions including typing and texting as well as other job-related repetitive motions. CTS sometimes requires surgery to repair, but in some cases, physical therapy can be a non-invasive alternative.
- Back injuries: many computer-related injuries are related to posture and position while typing. Poor posture and inadequate seating can lead to back injuries. In fact, lower back injuries from desk jobs are one of the most commonly reported work-related injuries. These often result from using office chairs that aren’t the right height in relation to your desk or aren’t designed with long-term seating in mind.
Nintendinitis: it’s a funny term for a serious problem–coined to describe tendon injuries related to video gaming. Because of the design of specialized controllers, video gaming can cause thumb strain similar to smartphone use, along with wrist and hand strain. In some cases, video game overuse has even led to so-called tennis elbow, an RSI which causes damage to the tendons attaching the forearm to the elbow.
There are a number of common sense approaches to preventing and resolving Repetitive Stress Injuries related to technology. They include:
- Keeping our posture in mind as we work, play and communicate with friends and family
- Reducing use of the technology that’s causing the problem. This can include texting less frequently, wearing a headset and use voice text options when possible.
- Taking breaks during work or play to stretch your neck and back muscles and flex your wrists and hands.
- Adapting workspaces with ergonomic keyboards and chairs.
- Resting and icing the affected area.
While RSI-related pain can sometimes be alleviated with these common sense approaches, if pain persists, physical therapy is an excellent non-invasive option. Physical therapy for the hand, arms, shoulders and back can help strengthen the affected muscles through targeted exercise and relieve pain through manual manipulation. Physical therapy practices are seeing more and more injuries related to technology and developing effective approaches to treating them.
At Countryside Orthopaedics and Physical Therapy, we offer a hand therapy specialization specifically addressing injuries to the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. Our hand therapists are certified by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission and have extensive experience in treating Repetitive Stress Injuries as well as other conditions and injuries affecting the muscle groups in the hands and arms. As always, our goal is to get you back to work and to the activities you love, while making modifications to help keep you from getting hurt again.