It’s impossible to find a person, these days, who does not own a smart phone. India alone has 125 million smartphone users currently, following China and the United States that are in number 1 and 2 position respectively. However, a device that was meant to make life easy is soon becoming a top reason for negatively influencing the behaviour and health of individuals and society as a whole. In my private practice I am seeing increasing number of people come with complaints caused by excess phone usage. Here are some of the common issues people face:
This is a neurological condition where the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp become compressed or inflamed due to improper posture maintained for long duration i.e. bending forward while using a Smartphone. The symptoms are similar to that of migraine.
Text neck syndrome
Commonly occurring due to bending the neck downwards to look into the cellphone. Text neck syndrome is characterised by neck discomfort, pain and stiffness. Teenagers and young people are now increasingly suffering from this condition. The neck is meant to support the weight of the head. But with continuous forward bending while looking into screens, this load is aggravated leading to additional stress on the neck. Moreover, there is a forward titling of the shoulders that adds load on the muscles too. A rise in use of smartphones along with increasing number of hours at the desk, together have caused a rise in the number of Text Neck Syndrome cases. This is especially alarming in young children, who might suffer from permanent damage of their cervical [neck] spine.
Medically known as Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, smartphone elbow is characterised by tingling, numbness, pain and occasional burning in the forearm and hand. This happens due to keeping your arm bent for a long time in order to hold the phone close to the ears. The nerve in the elbow known as ulnar nerve gets compressed while bending the elbow, thereby leading to this condition. An easy way to detect this is to press and tap over the hollow on the elbow and check for any pain/ sensitivity.
Selfie elbow, a condition similar to tennis elbow, is strain and stiffness of the elbow due to over stretching of the arm while taking a selfie. Extending arms for long period of time or in the wrong manner for taking selfies has resulted in increasing number of people visiting their doctors with these complaints.
People who have the habit of taking multiple selfies in a day are facing this problem. This condition aggravates if the person is involved in sports like tennis, squash, etc. Using selfie stick and minimising the number of selfies taken per day can prevent aggravation of pain and other symptoms.
Blackberry thumb or texting thumb
Repeated texting with the thumb can lead to inflammation of the tendon sheath of the thumb which leads to a condition called as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. This is swelling and irritation of the tendons and the protective sheaths around them. Typical symptoms include pain in the thumb, especially base of the thumb which may be accompanied by swelling. These symptoms are aggravated while performing pinching and grasping movements of the thumb. If left untreated, the condition may worsen leading to reduced grip strength and reduced range of motion in the wrist.
Text claw is when you have cramps and soreness in all the fingers. This is due to overall excess use of a smartphone, be it for texting, calling, or even browsing the net. Uncontrolled smartphone usage can also cause inflammation of your tendons and worsen existing conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Complications of all these problems can range from chronic pain to arthritis of the joints involved.
Short for “no-mobile-phone phobia”, this is the fear of being without your phone. A lot of people fear losing their phone or being without their phones, even for a short time duration. This sometimes gives rise to anxiety and panic. For a lot of people there is always an underlying tension that they may loose their phone and hence obsessively keep checking for it.
Addiction of mobile phone and social networking has become very common. Obsession of being available every time can lead to anxiety, stress and irritability. This is not just seen in teenagers but also working executives where they have an obsession of responding immediately to each and every text, mail or tweet. If they fail to do so, it leads them to feel very angry and under constant pressure. It’s like they are constantly trying to meet some deadline. Many people who are addicted to social life become very conscious while facing strangers as their face to face communication skills weaken over time. Even people who were previously having good interpersonal skills may find themselves becoming antisocial or recluses.
Phantom pocket vibration syndrome
Those who are addicted to their smartphones begin to experience phantom vibrations, thinking their phone is buzzing when it isn’t. And they keep on checking their phone every 5-7 minutes, in their pockets or purses, thinking it is vibrating. This also causes them to be distracted during meetings or mealtimes. Even though the phone is on vibration mode their attention will be divided as they are afraid of missing a call or notification.
It can affect your memory
Using your phone instead of your brain to recall information could make you mentally lazy, say researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada. The study of 600 people found a significant correlation between less time spent on the phone and stronger cognitive skills and powers of analysis. As we know the logic of our brain, “Use it or lose it”. Next time you’re trying to recall the name of a film or find your way to a restaurant, for example, try working it out for yourself before resorting to Google.
Watching mobile screen late nights can disturb your sleeping pattern. The light exposure can actually push back sleep time twice as long as coffee does, thanks to its ability to suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps with sleep timing. Sleep deprivation can lead to many physical and mental health problems.
Continuous looking in the small screen of mobile may lead to blurred vision, tired eyes, dizziness and even migraine. Direct exposure to blue light – like the one that comes from cellphone screens – can cause damage to the retina of the eye which can cause macular degeneration loosing the central vision.
Apart from this; many people are unaware of the harmful electromagnetic radiation [EMR] from Smartphones, so the majority of people take their Smartphones to bed and everywhere they go. The EMR radiation may cause DNA damage, brain dysfunction, and sleeping problems. Also it is observed that men who keep mobiles in their trouser pockets are more prone to infertility as mobile radiation can significantly reduce the sperm count.
How do I protect myself from these problems
- Prevention of cellphone overuse is the best way forward and the onus is on you individually to monitor your usage
- Temporary relief by painkillers and ice fomentation can help if you are already facing any muscle stiffness or one of the syndromes mentioned above
- Immobilisation of the body part involved by using a brace or splint can support the area and prevent overactivity
- Physical therapy can be started after initial control of symptoms to strengthen the muscles and tendons of the elbow, hand and wrist.
The long term solution
- Use the ball of your thumb while using the phone rather than the tip
- Alternate between thumb and index finger for using the phone
- Keep the phone at eye level while using it
- Adjusting the contrast and brightness to comfort levels
- Avoiding bending your neck sideways to hold the phone when your hands are busy. Instead use headphones for the same
- Use earphones for longer duration calls
- Avoid using phones while driving or walking on the road
- Avoid continuous staring at the screen to avoid eyesight problems
- Don’t use your Smartphone in the bedroom. Either switch off it or turn it on silent mode to avoid disturbance
- Don’t become dependent on your Smartphone to manage every aspect of your life. Rather, try to solve your problems on your own or by talking to your friends and family. Don’t search for every solution on Google, first try to ask a real person for help
- Avoid keeping your mobile phone in your pocket. Keep it in your bag and zip or close the bag so that your mobile is not easily accessible to you and at hand’s reach
- Never use your Smartphone as your alarm clock, or chatting, checking emails and other notifications will be the first thing you do in the morning
- Minimise use of social media on smartphone. Use it only on your laptop or at a fixed time during the day
- Get rid of all time wasting apps from your phone.
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