Staying Techno Healthy in the New Year
Are you technologically healthy? It’s no surprise if you experience pain in your fingers, wrists, elbows and neck resulting from excessive use of personal digital assistants (PDA) like cell phones, media players (iPods), tablets, computers and even video games. Indeed, along with the billions of text messages sent each year has come a rise in musculoskeletal discomfort and injury. As advances in personal technologies continue (and devices and keyboards get smaller and smaller), so too will health problems stemming from overuse and misuse. The good news is that with some simple techniques, you can prevent the toll technology can take on your body.
The Thumb and Wrist
The fine, repetitive movements that are required for texting are not so great for the thumb, which is best used for gripping and grasping. In fact, over time, they can place unwanted stress on ligaments and muscles, leading to irritation and inflammation that can extend to the wrist. Without treatment, the pain can increase and weakness and disability can ensue. In addition to taking breaks from long stretches of typing on a PDA, try to:
- minimize overall use
- limit texting and checking and returning e-mails
- send shorter messages
- reduce keystrokes with abbreviations and key shortcuts
- type lightly
- avoid working with Word documents and spreadsheets
- alternate your thumb with another finger or stylus
- keep wrists upright
- hold the PDA close to your body
- shake out and stretch the hands occasionally. You can either squeeze a stress ball for 30 seconds or so, or open and close the hands while stretching the fingers out from a fist position.
With many people constantly hunched over their PDAs or computers, it’s understandable that such poor posture would cause increased disc pressure and muscle load and ultimately a prevalence of neck strain and pain. To be sure, rounded shoulders coupled with a forward-drooping head for extended periods are the perfect ingredients for what is now referred to as “text neck.” Holding a cell phone between the ear and shoulder, hands-free, can aggravate the condition. Here are some tips to beat it:
- sit or stand up straight with shoulders back
- tuck in the chin to look down
- bring the screen up in front of your eyes
- rest your forearms on a pillow if possible
- use a headset if possible.
Pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the elbows may be signs of muscle tension from PDA overuse. The ulnar nerve (funny bone), which runs from the neck to the hand, can become compressed when the elbow is kept bent for a long while. You can help protect your elbows from injury by:
- reducing the time you bend your elbows to hold up your PDA
- avoiding leaning on a flexed elbow while using your PDA.
When you do experience inflammation and soreness, take an anti-inflammatory medication and apply cold or heat to the area. If you do not experience relief, see your physician, who may outfit you with splints and/or administer a cortisone injection. For extreme cases, surgery may be advised.