Ortho Pain From Technology
It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly digital world. Texting, emailing and surfing the web aren’t options as much as they are essential components of our everyday life.
While these activities provide a level of connectivity that makes life convenient, they also come with some rather painful side effects. More frequently, people are developing aches, pains and injuries related specifically to their use of technology.
Cell phones, computers and tablets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s more important than ever before to find a balance between the technology we depend on and the care we take with our necks, back, hands and entire body. Understanding what can happen if we’re not careful is important in staying ahead of the pain.
Table of contents
● Anatomy of the spine and neck
● Texting thumb and hand pain
● Trigger finger
● Cell phone elbow
● Tech neck
● TV neck
● When to see a doctor
Anatomy of the spine and neck
The human body is highly interconnected, but the ways that we use technology don’t always take this fact into account. A great example of the way that one part of the body seamlessly affects another is the link between the spine and the neck—two areas greatly influenced by technology use.
The neck is made up of nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones that both house the spinal cord and allow the head to move in all directions. While the top of the neck connects to the skull, the bottom moves directly into the upper back and spine.
The spine and neck must work in tandem to support the weight of the head and provide the body with flexibility and range of motion. Both areas are packed with nerves that carry important functional messages to the brain, as well as transfer blood.
Because these nerves and the spinal cord are housed between the neck and spine, when one has a problem, you’re likely to see detrimental effects in the other. It’s not uncommon for the hunched-over posture used while texting to lead to neck pain over time and vice-versa.
Texting thumb and hand pain
Most people find texting to be second nature. Unfortunately, that constant and repetitive typing motion can result in some serious thumb and hand pain referred to as texting thumb.
While the phone itself isn’t the culprit, the excessive use of texting features can cause strain on the tendons that run between the thumb and wrist. Professionally, this condition is referred to as De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis.
Symptoms of text thumb and associated hand pain often include:
● Pain along the thumb
● Pain that moves up the arm
● Sore thumb joint
While anti-inflammatory medication can help to reduce swelling along the thumb when this happens, slowing down your texting speed or switching up fingers from time to time can also make a big difference.
Be sure to stretch out your fingers from time to time if you text throughout the day. If text time can’t be reduced, using a thumb brace can help to prop up the thumb and reduce pain.
As more careers move online, the time that the average person spends in front of their computer screen has increased too. While there’s an undeniable convenience factor to modern work life, most people don’t take time to consider just how hard they’re pounding on the keys all day long.
Pressing hard on computer keyboards, phone keyboards and tablets all day long can lead to a condition known as Stenosing Tenosynovitis—more commonly referred to as trigger finger. This happens when the tendons that give your fingers the ability to bend become inflamed due to repetitive motions and excessive use.
Symptoms linked to trigger finger might include:
● Locked joints
● Stiff joints
● Joint popping
One of the most effective ways to combat trigger finger is to make it a point to take regular typing breaks throughout the day. These breaks should include intentional hand and finger stretches to give tendons rest.
The use of a hand massage device can work well on aching fingers. In cases of severe trigger finger, a doctor may recommend the use of a splint until tendons have recovered.
Cell phone elbow
In the medical world, it’s known as Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. The rest of us know it as cell phone elbow.
This painful condition is the result of prolonged periods spent with your elbow bent up as you talk on the phone with family, colleagues, clients and friends. It’s an unnatural angle for the arm to maintain. The position presses extensively on the ulnar nerve, which runs along the inside of the elbow.
Maintaining this position for too long can come with some painful consequences. As blood flow is decreased down the arm, cell phone elbow can lead to noticeable inflammation.
Other symptoms associated with cell phone elbow can include:
● Tingling in the ring and small finger (particularly after sleeping)
● Pain in the forearm
Small changes can make huge differences when it comes to alleviating the pain associated with cell phone elbow. Moving from a handheld to a hands-free phone setup is key. If you sit and talk, consider placing a pad on the desk or table so you can extend your elbow more freely and change up positions more regularly.
The rise of technology has taken the human gaze down towards handheld screens. As our focus moves down, so does our neck. The results are often unpleasant, to say the least.
Tech neck is perhaps one of the most common consequences of living in a digital world, as we’re constantly drawn towards unnatural angles to check email, send messages or watch videos on small screens.
The neck is responsible for holding the head up. The human head can weigh anywhere from 11 to 13 pounds. When the neck is constantly bent forward to view a screen, the weight of the head is also factored in, causing additional strain.
All things considered, it’s not surprising that symptoms of tech neck are vast and can include:
● Neck spasms
● Shoulder pain
● Stiff neck
In severe cases of tech neck, the pressure that tightened muscles put on the discs of the neck and spine can eventually cause them to herniate or rupture. This is only repairable with surgery and can lead to other complications such as limb numbness and nerve pain.
Before any of these serious conditions develop, it’s important to take steps to improve posture while using technology to avoid tech neck altogether. Small changes can make a big impact.
Movement is key to keeping tech neck at bay. Most physicians recommend getting up from your devices and moving around every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day. If you’re spending hours at a time at a desk and in front of a screen, investing in a chair with lumbar support is vital.
Standing frequently promotes better posture and increases healthy blood flow. If you have the option to incorporate a standing desk into your work environment, it’s good for the entire body.
Don’t forget to make neck stretches and strengthening part of your daily routine. Giving your muscles a chance to flex and stretch before spending time with technology is a good way to counter the effects of unnatural posture.
For all of the technology we use daily that draws our neck and attention downward, devices like televisions can leave us craning our necks up. Unfortunately, the results can be just as detrimental.
Wall-mounted high definition televisions are just about everywhere. From restaurants to living rooms, we tend to leave our work computers behind only to swap them out for TVs that are hoisted up at uncomfortable viewing angles.
Your neck and back alignment is as important when you’re sitting at your desk as it is when you’re watching your favorite show from the couch. Spending a significant amount of time staring at a screen that’s too high can lead to:
● Stiff muscles
● Aching shoulders
Adjusting the height of your television is vital to eliminating TV neck. Be sure to position the screen on the wall in such a way that you can view the screen straight on, without having to look up or down.
Make sure to stand up at least every 30 minutes and walk around. As you do, consider performing gentle neck stretches and head rolls to relieve any muscle tension. If you find that you develop a TV neck easily, a strengthening neckband can be used while you watch television to combat these negative effects.
When to see a doctor for orthopedic pain
If you find that regular exercise, stretching and placement adjustments aren’t alleviating the painful symptoms associated with technology use, it’s time to speak with a specialist. Diagnosing strain and stress of this type early on can help tech users to avoid developing serious issues that can hinder mobility down the line.
Minimizing pain and recovery times are our specialties at AnMed Health. If tech pain of any type has you down, let our orthopedic and sports medicine professionals help you find relief.
We’re here to ensure you that you can stay connected while caring for your body, too. Reach out today to learn more!