September 2, 2008 12:50 pm

Technology has become a pain in the neck


The old folk wisdom that an apple a day keeps the doctor away may need a cautionary corollary for the computer age. That’s because a daily dose of Apple – or any other brand of computer or high-tech device – can be a direct path to the physician’s office.

Across the country, excessive use of laptops, cellphones, personal digital assistants and other technology has led to such modern-day maladies as “tech neck,” “mouse wrist,” “iPod finger,” “BlackBerry thumb” and “computer headache.” According to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, the global pervasiveness of these technology-induced afflictions, their effect on quality of life, and the affected demographics – who now include children as young as 8 – were among the hottest topics at this year’s World Confederation of Physical Therapy Congress in Vancouver.

“There’s an emerging body of knowledge about how these (technological) devices are actually impacting our health,” said Natalie Bovair, a spokesperson for the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.

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Of particular concern is the growing number of children and teenage patients who are complaining of headaches and neck pain, which researchers believe are because of overuse of video games, long or frequent cellphone use, excessive text messaging and poor posture at the computer.

A Boston University study found 40 per cent of sixth graders who regularly used computers had physical complaints that suggested the presence of a musculoskeletal disorder. An Australian study found 60 per cent of computer users ages 10 to 17 had similar complaints.

Peter Vass, a real estate agent, is among the roughly 13 million Canadians who believe the use of technology contributes to their physical torment.

“I’m a ‘crackberry’ addict with BlackBerry thumb,” said Vass, laughing. Although this ailment originates in the digits, symptoms can include pain or throbbing, swelling and numbness of the entire hand or forearm.

Vaas, who lives in Toronto, also developed wrist problems, including the loss of feeling and muscle control, that he says he believes were caused by holding his phone at an unnatural angle for extended periods of time in his car.

His solution was to switch to a Bluetooth earpiece, which he wears about 18 hours a day.

“While I’m driving, I do all my communication: emails, texting, Internet, make my phone calls. I pretty well live on a BlackBerry,” Vass said.

“When you’re a real estate agent, technology isn’t a choice; it’s your life.” Colleen Lichti spends most of her 40-hour work week on the phone or at the computer, leading to what’s known in popular parlance as “tech neck.” For nearly four years, the Canadian insurance-claims specialist has been seeing a chiropractor for her “perpetual muscular pain,” but finds little empathy for her condition outside the medical community.

“When you think of a manual labour type of position, you automatically think of someone who’ll have pains and strains,” Lichti said.

“But when you think of somebody sitting in a chair in an office all day, that (image) doesn’t necessarily come to mind.”

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