Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Preventing Smart Phone Injuries

I remember a long time ago, a new term popped up called "Nintendo Thumb." It referenced a condition that befell kids who played too many video games and hurt their thumbs with constant joy stick use. Gaming systems in the home were new, and an injury sustained by gaming on the living room couch seemed preposterous. The grown-ups in my life shook their heads and laughed at the news, as if to say, Dumb kids.

But with the advancement of home computing and personal devices that go with us everywhere, conditions similar to Nintendo Thumb are now pervasive for all ages, and the concept of injuries caused by gadgets is no longer a novelty.

Take smart phones. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) has dedicated a PDF tip sheet for preventing injuries related to smart phone use. Some possible conditions and prevention tips from the AOTA include:
  • Smart phone thumb. This is pain or soreness in your wrist or at the base of your thumb from the "awkward positioning of your hands and thumbs while typing." Prevention includes typing shorter messages, limiting time spent typing on your phone, and giving your digits a rest.
  • Cell phone elbow. This is "tingling and numbness into your little finger and possible weakness of your hand." It's caused by persistent bending of your elbow while holding the phone to your ear. Prevention includes changing hands while using the phone, using a speaker phone or a hands-free device. (Side note: I bought the RocketFish Mobile Hands-Free Headset for other reasons, and it works well.)
  • Cell phone neck. Pain and spasms in your neck and shoulder muscles can be caused by tilting your head and raising your shoulder to stabilize your phone. Like cell phone elbow, using a speaker phone or a hands-free device will prevent this as well.
  • PDA nails. Believe it or not, your nails can become "misshapen and ridged" from prolonged keyboard typing. Using the pad of your finger, not the tip, can help prevent this.
  • Cellular blindness. Looking at a small screen for long periods of time can cause severely dry eyes. It helps to look away from your screen every 20 minutes and to use proper corrective lenses. (I can no longer use contact lenses because of dry eyes, and now I wonder if I'm forever in glasses because of my crazy long hours - and years - in front of a computer screen.)
  • Smart phone fog. "Symptoms include putting yourself and others in danger by using your smart phone while driving or walking." Don't text while walking or driving, and use a hands-free device when talking on your phone.
When I first got my smart phone last year, I carried it around in my left hand - a lot. The base of my thumb started aching mysteriously. It finally hit me that it was caused by holding my thumb in the same position, arched back away from my other fingers, to hold my phone. My smart phone did so many more things than my old phone, and as a result, I was holding it and using it all the time. I think I officially had the beginning of smart phone thumb. Dumb kid!

I find it so interesting that personal gadgets promise more convenience and efficiency in our daily lives, and yet without proper balance, they can cultivate a whole set of other physical and psychological afflictions never experienced before.

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