Tip/Thought of the Day

How Does Technology Impact Health?

Technology is useful in many ways. We often overlook how much we utilize our cell phones, tablets, and other gizmos and gadgets. If you were to track your screen time during a day- my bet is you would be shocked how many minutes tick away while you stare at a screen. Often ignored is the impact that using technology has on our bodies. Here are a few of the factors to consider:

Do cell phones cause cancer? : 

Cellular phones emit radio frequency (RF) waves, which emit non-ionizing radiation. According to the American Cancer Society, tests show “The RF waves given off by cell phones don’t have enough energy to damage DNA directly or to heat body tissues. Because of this, it’s not clear how cell phones might be able to cause cancer. Most studies done in the lab have supported the idea that RF waves do not cause DNA damage. But, the ACS does state that factors such as frequency of use, model of phone, proximity to a cell tower (the further from a tower, the more energy is needed to get signal), and if the user is using the phone on speaker or hands-free (the further the phone is to your body, the less exposure there is to the RF waves) all impact how much energy an individual is exposed to. Clearly, limiting your exposure can’t hurt.

Carpal and Cubital Tunnel syndrome from gadget use? :

Providers report an increase in patients complaining of hand, finger, wrist, and elbow pain. This may be due to using tech devices. Some call the condition “text claw” and “cell phone elbow”, but the condition is medically called cubital tunnel syndrome, or carpal tunnel syndrome. The difference between the two is which fingers are affected; cubital tunnel syndrome The cubital tunnel results in numbness in the small and ring finger, whereas Carpal tunnel gives you tingling and numbness in the thumb, middle and index finger. The symptoms include finger cramping and aching muscles that come from constant gaming, scrolling and texting on smartphones, according to Dr. Roger Powell, a board certified orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hand and elbow surgery. While some people are predisposed to the conditions because of the composition of their hands (i.e. a more narrow cubital tunnel), the opinion is that an increase in tech use isn’t helping the situation. If you feel discomfort for more than a week, seek a provider’s help to rule out any serious issues.

Thumb injuries from using devices: 

I hate to admit this is my biggest complaint. If you are like the average smartphone/ tablet user, your device is in your hands for hours each day, from the moment you wake up, until you go to bed, with little down-time in between. This frequent use can lead to debilitating hand pain for those who clutch the phone or type for several hours at a time. Phones have evolved from the large rotary style to portable computers that remain in our hands most of the day. However, the human hand has yet to evolve to match the shape of the device. Holding your smartphone the wrong way can lead to a common injury often referred to as “texting thumb,” or “trigger thumb,” a repetitive stress injury, which is formally known as stenosing tenosynovitis. More serious problems such as tendinitis and sore muscles around the arm are also common with smartphone use. We have pretty much mastered the ergonomically correct desktop computer, wrist support and office hair. Unfortunately, it is hard to use tablets in the same way you would use a computer. The risk of injury are the same: repeated motion and unnatural postures can cause injury. The problem with smartphones and tablets, aside from the fact that we are constantly on them is there are many positions you can use them in, and most of them are not good for your body. Try placing your phone or tablet on a table while texting, or hold the phone in one hand, while that arm is supported on a table, and text with the other in a “hunt and peck” style of typing.

Phone use while driving: 

Everybody knows that being distracted while driving is dangerous. But, many people still opt to use their phone at some point while driving, despite the danger and that it is illegal in many states. In fact, reports show that at any time of the day, 660,000 people are using their cell phone while driving, leading to 1.6 million crashes each year, according to the National Safety Council. And, consider that stat is only from crashes reported as due to cell phone use- the actual amount is likely higher.

If that isn’t startling enough, consider this:

Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states, “Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

The danger of distracted driving cannot be under stated; if you are driving, put your phone in “driving mode,” so that people that try to reach you get an automated message letting them know that you are currently on the road and will return their communication shortly. Put your phone in the glove box or center console to prevent yourself from reaching for it. Sync up the device to your car, if possible, so you are at least more focused on the road while in the vehicle than you would be if you were looking down at the phone. But, the main takeaway- keep your eyes and attention on the road- lives depend on it.

Technology disrupts sleep : 

Bright light is one of the biggest triggers to our brains that it’s time to be awake and alert. Using a cellphone, tablet, or even watching TV before bed may prevent you from sleeping well. Think of taking the computer and TV out of the room altogether. Keeping computers and TVs out of the room will help your brain get into sleep mode- avoid using devices the hour before you head to bed. If you use devices close to bedtime, many have a “night shift” mode which emits a soft, yellow-hued light that won’t disturb your circadian rhythm or strain your eyes as does the blue light typically emitted by devices.

Too much sitting: 

Technology is a way for many people to unplug. The platforms available to us now are endless- movies, TV series, news from around the globe, blogs, online shopping, and gaming, to name a few. Add in the “necessary” screen time- computer use at work, online bill pay, school work, coordinating services for our homes and family- it becomes easy to face a screen more often than not. Sitting down while doing all these tasks adds insult to injury. Too much sitting can have serious health consequence. Lack of exercise can result in weight gain, impact cardiovascular health, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.

A couple of ways to counteract the impact of sitting while using tech devices are:

  • Use an exercise ball- having to balance while sitting stimulates the muscles in your core and back.
  • Stand while using the computer- standing burns more calories than sitting.

Awareness in public: 

Researchers from the University of Washington monitored 20 of Seattle’s busiest intersections and observed the following:

  • Pedestrians who text are 4x less likely to look before crossing the street, cross in crosswalks, or obey traffic signals.
  • They also found that texting pedestrians take an average of two seconds longer to cross the street.

That means people are unaware of their surroundings while moving among vehicles, walkway obstructions, and even people who mean to cause harm.

Stiff neck? Maybe it’s “text neck”:

Ever heard of “text neck”? Until recently, it wasn’t a term commonly heard. But with the increase in technology use, some people are experiencing neck and shoulder pain from constantly craning their necks downwards to look at their phones. The neck has a natural curve to it, and overuse of a phone or tablet, that requires the user to look down, causes fatigue on the neck and shoulder muscles.

“Neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head, about 10 to 12 pounds,” says Dr. Bolash, a pain specialist at the Cleveland Clinic “Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles. Looking down at your smartphone, with your chin to your chest, can put about 60 pounds of force on your neck.”

Cut down on the time you use a phone, and opt for a desktop computer, if you must use a device. Looking straight ahead will reduce the pressure on your neck.

Technological advances are wonderful, but with them have come a slew of medical issues that have impacted our health. Take a few minutes to understand the ways to limit the impact so you can enjoy the benefits without the adverse consequences.

dsc_0323-1    –Dr. Courtney







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