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The Tech Effect: Why Long-Term Use of Our Devices is Getting a Thumbs Down

Nov 09, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Becca Newell

Whether you love it or loathe it, you can’t escape technology—particularly those prized (or pesky, depending on your outlook!) smartphones seemingly attached to our palms. But is it healthy to be so stuck to our screens? Ongoing research suggests not.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Eyestrain, blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches are all symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also known as Digital Eye Strain. The cause? Prolonged exposure to cell phones, tablets, and computer screens. Over the years, research has tracked an increase in nearsightedness, or myopia, which is a result of an elongated eyeball and stretched retina. There is some discussion that our eyes are changing because they’re adapting to the amount of time spent focusing on things nearby. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests these ailments aren’t permanent; vision should return to normal and any pain should subside after a break from those devices.

Cell Phone Elbow

Although scientific research isn’t conclusive on the matter, there are studies to suggest that cellphone use can be detrimental to our hands—our thumbs, in particular. A 2015 study of 100 school students concluded that smartphone overuse causes thumb pain and decreased hand functionality, such as a decline in pinch strength. And it’s not just texting and gaming to blame. “Cell phone elbow”—medically referred to as cubital tunnel syndrome—describes the aching and tingling of the forearm and hand that occurs after extended conversations via hand-held devices. Symptoms arise when the elbow is flexed at an angle greater than 90 degrees, compressing the ulnar nerve. Preventative measures, according to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, include switching hands often while talking on the phone or using a hands-free device.

Text Neck

Continually peering downwards toward that illuminated screen is also adding strain to our necks. “Text Neck” refers to upper back, shoulder, and neck soreness that can be accompanied by muscle tightness and spasms. Researchers believe that tilting the head to view a cellphone or tablet places increased pressure on the spine. The print and digital journal, Surgical Technology International, calculated this additional force to the vertebrae in the neck: when the head is in a neutral position, the vertebrae sustains 10 to 12 pounds; that increases to 27 pounds when the head tilts 15 degrees, and 49 pounds at a 45-degree tilt. To relieve symptoms of “Text Neck,” try using talk-to-text and voice commands, along with adding simple neck and shoulder stretches to your daily fitness routine. Another option is to raise the screen, so it’s more or less parallel to your face.

The 20/20/20 Rule

The American Optometric Association established this rule to help alleviate CVS. Simply take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

35% of American adults owned a smartphone in 2011

64% of American adults own a smartphone in 2016

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