Modern technology, for all its benefits, has its downsides. One of the negative consequences is that common electronic devices like cellphones, computers and e-books sometimes cause injuries and other physical problems. Users can lower the risks by limiting their time with such devices, and by learning how to minimize the impact on their bodies.
Talking on a hand-held phone, or exchanging text messages, can be a pain in the neck. Most people hold the device too low, forcing their heads to bend sharply downward. This repeated head tilting can result in fibromyalgia and other ailments.
Looking down at a phone burdens the spine with as much as 60 pounds of pressure, according to a study by Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spinal surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine. He determined that the amount of strain on the neck and spine depends upon the angle of the head.
Hansraj recommended holding the phone at eye level, because the “loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine.” He warned that “these stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration and possibly surgeries.”
The doctor told Time magazine that using a phone for two to four hours daily for a year “adds up to 700 to 1,400 hours of excess stress on the cervical spine, or up to 5,000 hours for high school students.”
Extended use of a laptop, tablet or other keyboard increases the likelihood of developing back pain and shoulder injuries. The conditions can become chronic and disabling.
In 2014, researchers examined three types of keyboards to learn how they affected the body. Touchscreens, or “virtual” keyboards, required less typing force and finger muscle stress than desktops or notebooks. Using the latter two devices frequently involves holding the fingers above the keys when not typing. The result is “static loading” of the shoulders, according to the Northern Illinois University research team.
Study volunteers made more typing mistakes, but stressed most of their muscles less, when using the touchscreens. However, the trapezius muscles in the upper back sustained more strain on virtual computers than with the other kinds of keyboards.
Prolonged and repeated stress can lead to inflammation of liquid sacs called bursae, which provide cushioning between bones and muscles in the shoulder blade. Swolen bursae make people vulnerable to bursitis, tendonitis, osteoarthritis, shoulder impingement and tendon tears.
Tablets and e-Book Readers
A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that some users of the device experience disruptions in their sleep patterns. The researchers enlisted a dozen young adults to read either e-books or printed books for four hours before going to bed for five nights. The volunteers were provided dim lighting, and the e-books were at their top brightness setting.
Many people enjoy reading a book in bed at night. They find that it relaxes them and helps them fall asleep. The effects are not always so positive when an e-book is involved.
The New York Times reported that the “participants reading an e-book took longer to fall asleep and had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock and reduced next-morning alertness than when reading a printed book.” The volunteers who used Apple iPads took an average of 10 minutes longer to fall asleep. They had less “dream” sleep.
The Wall Street Journal noted that other researchers have confirmed the harmful effect on sleep patterns caused by watching television, or using a computer or other device with artificial lights, in the evening. “The type of short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light, that many backlit devices emit is especially powerful at suppressing the release of melatonin,” the newspaper explained.