Smartphone addicts’ new excuses to take sick days

With the rising popularity of smartphones, and more people coming down with conditions such as “text-thumb injury” or “text-neck”, it would seem bosses the world over may soon be facing a raft of new reasons as to why employees are unable to come in to work.

A recent poll by YouGov, of more than 2 000 people, found that 44% of people in the UK used their mobiles for activities besides making calls for between 30 minutes and two hours a day. People are no longer using phones to make calls and send the odd text message.

Smartphones are more often used as tools to access the web — which, of course, requires spending a lot more time staring at small screens and tapping tiny keys. All this gives rise to new medical maladies.

While this may seem laughable, British health professionals have long warned that there are risks associated with extended periods of time staring at small screens and hammering away on tiny keyboards.

Tim Hutchful, a member of the British Chiropractic Association, told a story to illustrate just how dire this situation could turn out to be. “I had a patient who developed inflamed tendons in her thumb from using her smartphone and was unable to use her hand for weeks due to pain.”

In a slightly ominous warning Sammy Margo of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy says that the human body is “not designed to be used like this.” The “the phones are far too small, with keys that are too small,” she explains.

While Jerry Maguire may have claimed that “the human head weighs 8 pounds”, Hutchful explained that it is actually 10-12 pounds (4-5.5kgs). In an ideal posture, where a vertical line can be drawn from your ear through your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle, “the weight is carried efficiently”, he explained.

If the head is constantly held forward to squint at a screen, however, then the unusual posture makes the head feel up to four times heavier, increasing strain across the whole body. The gives rise to what is becoming known as “text-neck”, he explains.

Though different manifestations, these are not in actual fact new ailments.

“Text neck” is actually the far more widely recognised “repetitive strain injury” (RSI).

Prevalent amongst workers who spend a lot of time in front of computers, RSI includes a number of ailments affecting the muscles, tendons, and nerves, primarily in the neck and upper limbs.

While stressing that he did not want to “demonise smartphones”, Hutchful offered some pointers — such as using a smartphone for no more than 40 minutes at a time — for gadget-heads looking to avoid injury.

Margo said the biggest at-risk group are children and teenagers, who are heavy users of computers and smartphones.

“I know families where people communicate from one room to another via text messages,” she said. “We have to put limits on this”. — with additional reporting by AFP



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