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The Painful Truths Of New Mobile Technology

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 7:31am
Jeff Reinke

Hearing loss. Blurry vision. Repetitive Strain Injury. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

One might think these injuries were referencing the long-term effects of a career in manufacturing or construction. However, the reality is that these conditions, which could also be referred to as iPod ear, texting tendonitis or Blackberry wrist, are the results of increased mobile device use. And before you shrug these occurrences off as minor discomforts, know that they’ll be sending more, and younger, patients to the OR.

Here’s just a couple of examples:

  • In March we reported on 16-year-old Annie Levitz. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, which was attributed to sending over 100 text messages a day to family and friends. She was scheduled to have surgery on both wrists after pecking out as many as 4,000 messages per month. The situation came to a head after the teenager felt her hands going numb.
  • A national study published this week says one in five American teens now have hearing loss, and doctors say a big reason is the iPods and other digital music players that rely on ear buds.
  • Researchers have linked the smaller screens on mobile phones and other devices to vision problems.
  • Virgin Mobile cited 3.8 million British mobile phone users have text-related injuries, with 38 percent complaining about sore wrists and thumbs.
  • And the issues are not exclusive to teenagers. Numerous outlets reported on a mortgage banker requiring surgery on her thumb because she was using her iPhone too much. The Philadelphia woman said she spent up 12 hours each day in communication with clients via her iPhone. Her recovery timeline, during which she won’t be able to type or text, could be more than two months.

While more attention is being given to the potential excess use of such devices, don’t expect fewer reports of such injuries, or the need for surgical repair. Over 2.5 billion text messages are sent daily in the United States, according to 2009 statistics from Neustar, a company that provides various services to communication providers and agencies.

Additionally, a report from LiveScience discusses the presentation by Judith Gold, associate professor of epidemiology and ergonomics at Temple University. Gold said researchers found complaints about elbow pain associated with abundant thumb texting.

As part of the Temple study, 138 students reported the average amount of texts they sent per day. They also listed examples of pain or discomfort on a body map. The results – there was an association between the amount of texts someone sends and the amount of shoulder pain they complained about. Maybe the next app on the market should include exercises to strengthen hand, wrist and shoulder muscles, or a directory of surgeons specializing in iSurgery.

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