In this era of instant communication through emails and various messaging applications, people go out of their way to keep a green icon glowing alongside their name. But there comes a time when your body needs you to unplug.
There’s a new kind of addiction that’s gripped the world — that of gadgets and staying connected 24×7. Doctors have noticed an alarming number of people who seek medical help for problems caused by the constant use of electronic devices.
Technology is meant to help and not harm us physically or mentally. If we looked away from our glowing screens just enough, we would hear our bodies telling us to get off the grid. Heed the advice of our experts to keep your body and mind happy.
Our expert: Dr Abdul Kareem Al Azzawi, medical director and consultant orthopaedic at Bahrain Specialist Hospital
Dr Al Azzawi has recently seen more patients walking in to his clinic with painful stress injuries caused by the wrong use of machines and devices. Chronic back pain caused by sitting for long periods of time without any movement is one of the most common complaints he encounters.
“Stress injuries are caused by using laptops, mobiles and tablets over several hours every day,” says Dr Al Azzawi. “Sitting continuously leads to the weakening of the lumbar muscle, which is the guide for the movement of the spine. Years of bad sitting posture leads to an unstable spine and problems, like discal prolapse and sciatica.”
Placing the computer screen at the wrong height makes people crane the neck, using more of the flexor muscles rather than the extensor muscles of the spine. This leads to instability of the cervical spine, ending with weakness of inter-vertebral muscles and discal problems.
Use of the computer mouse over extended periods of time puts direct pressure on the anterior part of the wrist, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. This is an extremely painful disorder that causes numbness and the weakening of the three radial fingers, which often requires surgery.
Fashionably called Blackberry thumb, tendonitis is another painful fallout of incessantly using your digits to play games or communicate. It starts with inflamed tendons of the fingers. It then affects ligaments and eventually leads to ‘locking’ of the fingers, making any movement an excruciating ‘click’. The remedy is local injections and surgery in advanced cases.
Dr Al Azzawi cautions that surgery cannot restore a joint or tendon to its maximum function. He suggests following the instruction manuals accompanying computer accessories. Simple ergonomic adjustments they recommend minimise discomfort from long hours of use. He also advocates using proper lumbar support to maintain natural spinal curvature and prevent back problems.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Our Expert: Dr Bachar Khoury, consultant ophthalmologist at Royal Bahrain Hospital
If you experience burning, teary eyes accompanied with redness, heaviness, blurriness and pain, your alarm bells should start going off sooner than later. Eyes are one of the most delicate and precious parts of the body. If just imagining your world dive into perennial darkness is not easy to fathom, the reality of losing one’s vision, even partially, must surely be more difficult to cope with.
“Looking at objects close to the eyes for a long time could cause ciliary muscle spasm,” says Dr Khoury. “The ciliary muscle is responsible for accommodation, which is the ability to see nearby objects. When this muscle goes into spasm we cannot see distant objects clearly. That causes a kind of myopia. This holds true for children as well, especially girls.”
Continuous staring keeps the eyes open for a long time and evaporates the tears, thus causing dryness. However, those of us who spend hours facing a screen at work need not despair. There are some simple and practical measures that help your eyes to function well. All it takes is to shift your gaze onto something that’s at a distance for five minutes every hour.
“Looking out of the window or even shutting your eyes for few minutes could help the ciliary muscle to relax and reduces the stress,” says Dr Khoury.
Those who tend to experience the discomfort of dry eyes could use artificial tear drops while working on the computer for long hours. They lubricate the eyes, keep them fresh and avoid related symptoms.
Dr Khoury advocates sleeping for enough hours to help the body, including the eyes recuperate. Having adequate shut-eye reduces dryness; it also relaxes the ciliary muscle, and improves near vision and reading ability.
Positioning the screen slightly below eye level and about twenty-five inches away from the eyes makes for more comfortable viewing. Anti-glare screens and proper lighting go a long way in protecting your eyes.
Social Side Effects of Technology
Our Expert: Dr Anne Mostafa, clinical psychologist
Besides the much debated risk of radiation that cell phones and laptops emit, there are other concerns raised by going into gadget overdrive. With smartphones getting slimmer and more convenient to tote around everywhere (and by that we mean everywhere), people today are more interested in peeking into their screens than having one-on-one chats at the café.
“These devices have banished the nine-to-five timeframe; work follows us everywhere,” observes Dr Anne. “The line between work and recreation is smudged, with people replying to emails and messages pronto and expecting the same from peers and colleagues.”
In addition to the dangers of cyber crime, the unrestricted exposure of children to communication gadgets and the Internet has its own repercussions.
Certain video games could make them more aggressive. Social media sites could cause anxiety, negative peer pressure and self-esteem issues.
We are so engrossed with our electronic toys that we shun the things that do us good, like a walk in the park, interaction with family, and sharing memories, ideas and values.
“Smartphones and social media are part of our lives. It’s ultimately up to us how we let them impact us and our family,” says Dr Anne.
To sum up, the tax society will pay for abusing technology will be aching, impatient individuals with poor social interaction skills and the attention span of a toddler.