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Neck pain linked to smart phone technology


By Flavia Nassaka

How much time do you spend on your phone? If you are a typical user, you must be increasingly replacing making calls with text messaging; especially with the new technologies offering countless messaging apps like whatsapp, viber, and Facebook.  These offer such cheaper yet more efficient text messaging that experts predict that messaging will soon overtake calling.

As we celebrate, however, there’s growing concern amongst health professionals about the effects of this smart phone revolution on our health.

Dr. Shirazi AbdulMajid an Orthopeadist at Ultima Trauma and Orthopeadic Center in Kampala says they are seeing more people complaining of posture problems. He says, unfortunately, the problems are likely to increase as more people use more technologies.

“Most people’s habits mean they are using technology non-stop from the minute they open their eyes to the minute they close them at night. This is over stimulation of mind and body. This can drain energy and cause poor health,” he says.

AbdulMajid says this is not unique to mobile smart phones users but it’s increasingly a complication faced by office workers who sit stuck on their computers all day long.

He says over 60% of office workers who visit the Ultima clinic complain of feeling pain in their neck, back and shoulders because they have failed to follow healthy computer use practices and also have failed to practice these simple tips for good posture life style.

He explains that by nature, humans are designed to stand upright but in this modern world we keep our heads bent down staring at either our smart phones or our computers; a posture which pulls the body to an unnatural angle leading to neck pain.

Dr. Tito Beyeza, an orthopeadic surgeon at Mulago hospital, says over-bending the neck; probably as you scroll through your phone messages can lead to muscle strain, backbone swelling; technically called disc herniation, and painful nerves. One can also get pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull which may feel like a twist, stiffness, or severe pain that usually spreads to the shoulders, upper back and arms causing headaches and migraines. Beyeza says, over time, this can flatten or reverse the natural curve of your neck.

The experts were reacting to recently published research by Dr Kenneth Hansraj, a spine surgeon in New York, USA, about the effects of the ever-increasing use of modern smart devices.

Hansraj diagnosed a particularly disturbing condition that has now been dubbed the ‘text neck’ phenomenon.  He says the position in which many people hold their heads when texting is placing a lot of pressure on the spine. In his study, the surgeon found that bending your head to look at your mobile device held in your hands can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.

His study includes illustrations of what happens when mobile users bend their heads at 15, 30, 45 and 90 degrees to look at their devices.

Hansraj first became interested in the issue after seeing more and more young people come in with pain. In one case, a young man came in with neck, back and leg pain. Surgery improved the leg but, Hasraj said, the man still had back and neck pain.

“That’s when we found he was spending four hours a day on his iPad playing games,” he said in a statement published by Surgical Technology International.

Back in Kampala, Beyeza says the neck is not the only part of the body affected but also the back and the head. Apart from staring at devices, the other common activities that causes such pains include sleeping on a pillow that is too high or too flat or that does not support your head, or sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.

He says these pains at times could be a result of stress whereby the tension that comes with it may make the muscles that run from the back of the head across the shoulder feel tight and painful but to rule out the real cause, one has to visit an expert as pain can be a symptom of another serious complications like heart disease or meningitis.

Good posture according to doctors elevates testosterone and serotonin in the body, and also reduces levels of the stress hormone called cortisol.

At Ultima, AbdulMajid advises that although we cannot completely do away with the smart gadgets, we have to be aware of the correct posture for our bodies, make an effort to look at our phones with a neutral spine, and to avoid spending long hours each day hunched over.

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