From aching necks to throbbing thumbs, Americans are dealing with a variety of ailments that may result from our love affair with electronic gadgets. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, frequent computer use may be related to nerve, muscle, tendon and ligament damage. The proliferation of laptops, tablets, Smartphones, portable electronic games and other mobile devices has only added to the potential strain.
Some Common Conditions
Overuse, poor posture and less-than-ideal workstations may contribute to some of these conditions.
Wrist and hand pain. The repetitive motions involved with typing and moving a mouse may result in tendinitis (inflamed tendons) or bursitis (inflammation of the sacs of cushioning fluid). There is some controversy over whether carpal tunnel syndrome is related to repetitive stress, but it may be possible. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when thickened, irritated tendons at the base of the hand press on a nerve. Symptoms may include tingling, numbness and sharp pains through the wrist and up the arm.
De Quervain’s tendinitis. Possibly caused by overuse (think constant text-messaging or game-playing), De Quervain’s tendinitis occurs when tendons on the thumb side of the wrist become swollen or irritated. Pain at the base of the thumb can make it difficult to grasp objects.
Back, shoulder and neck pain. Hours of hunching over a computer – especially if stressed or under a deadline – may result in sore and strained muscles.
An Ounce of Prevention
Here are a few tips to avoid letting your gadgets get the best of you:
If you use a desktop computer, be sure your workstation is properly set up with the monitor and keyboard adjusted for your height and optimal viewing distance. Using a gel-filled or padded wrist support may help reduce strain on the wrists in some cases.
If you plan to use a laptop for an extended period, you may want to consider plugging in an external keyboard so you can adjust the monitor to a more comfortable viewing position. The same applies to extended use of tablets.
Practice good posture. Don’t hunch your shoulders or cradle a phone in your neck while working.
Take regular breaks. Get up and stretch or walk – if only for a minute or two – at least once every hour, and preferably every half hour.
Avoid constant texting. If you have a long message to deliver, consider using your phone to call rather than text.