Technology - Slumped, Not Smart
Pain is a complex, bewildering thing. That is why technology has been a veritable boon for those suffering from chronic pain. For example, spinal cord stimulation (SCS) therapy treats chronic pain by interrupting pain signals before they reach the brain and the treatments have become simpler and more effective in recent years. Zhang & Seymour (2014) have studied how technology for chronic pain management has grown enormously since the early 2000s, thereby overcoming “the limitations of pharmacology-based approaches”. The ReST bed, floatation tanks, and radiofrequency ablation are just some of the technologies out there. In the comforting words of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), “a variety of technologies offer new hope to people living with chronic pain”.
Comforting indeed. Now that’s the great stuff that comes out when you type in the words “technology and chronic pain” into your search engine. Change those words to “technology causes chronic pain” and see how the picture alters! The first article that pops up with that new search is titled, “Is Technology Causing a Lifetime of Pain for Millennials?” It seems that technology might be doing just that for the Snowflake…I mean, Millennial Generation. The authors refer to it as “physical wear and tear” and cite how, “Health problems such as neck and back pain, near-sightedness, and difficulty with offline relationships are increasingly common in this generation”. “Text neck” may sound amusing, but it has very real physical consequences, as chiropractor Dean Fishman of Florida found in 2009 when he noticed signs of premature spinal degeneration in the x-rays of several of his teenaged patients. Let’s repeat that, shall we: teenagers with spinal degeneration.
This is seconded by Spine Universe, in which Dr. Stewart Eidelson cautions about the havoc that smartphones can play on your neck. He writes, “You've seen people like this: shoulders hunched forward, neck straining at an uncomfortable angle, squinting at the screen, thumbs a blur as they type”. Yip, we’ve all seen that – in the mirror. The good doctor even suggest three different ‘neck stretches’ one can do in order to abate neck pain. That’s what we’ve come to – a bunch of techno-zombies who need to move their heads like demented ostriches just to avoid being (literally) pains in the neck!
Seriously though, the evidence is growing that our obsession with being plugged in, logged on, zoned out, and increasingly online goes beyond mere neck pain. These range from legions of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s suffering from joint pains (trust us, those were not age groups traditionally suffering with joint pains a mere 20 years ago), to the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine informing people how they can protect their back, neck and arms from a condition it dubbed ‘laptop-itis’.
Many people simply cannot hide away or even greatly reduce their use of technology because their entire work involves it, of course. More and more people are increasingly reliant on mobile technology in order to get a pay check. As with how one sits at a desk or the depth of your seat pan and height of said seat, so the way in which you work with your laptop or desktop computer or other techno device is very much an ergonomic issue. Think of ergonomics as the relationship between a worker and their work environment or work station. Dr. Moshe Lewis, a pain management specialist from Redwood City, CA, states, “Surprise! Your keyboard may be the most dangerous part of your office. Computer use is one of the leading causes of office-related repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)”. The Guardian has also reported on how RSI, RMD (repetitive motion disorders) and carpal tunnel syndrome literally exploded in the UK with the advent of computer technology.
There are of course exercises we can do and the ergonomics of how we work can be improved upon. And so we should. But we do need to pause and ponder: what does our mindless embrace of technology say about us? Yet again we have embraced a technology that is decidedly poor for our health. We seem to be very good at that. We need to take stock, individually and collectively, of how we use technology. We need to fully comprehend that this technology, for all its undoubted good, can have repercussions in the form of bodily pain – never mind what else it is quietly doing to our relationships, our ability to communicate, and the way in which we interact with the world. But that’s gist for another article altogether. For now, take heed the next time you use your iPad or smartphone or laptop – pain could be lurking just around the corner.
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