Sometimes, technology can be a pain in the neck, an actual pain in the neck.
So new medical terminology is emerging as people flock to the Internet to figure out the aches and pains that those smartphones, tablets, computers and gaming systems are causing.
Heard of “selfie elbow?” How about “text neck?” or “computer eyes?”
These are just a few of the trending ailments popping up on Google searches across the United States.
Imagine MD, a primary-care physicians network based in Chicago, looked at Google search trends to determine the most frequently searched ailments from technological devices in the United States and the real medical issues behind them.
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The results revealed quite a bit of new “medical” terminology floating across the world wide Web.
“We’ve been thinking about a number of things that are trending, and there was some laughing about some of the names of this stuff,” said Creative Director Andy Kearns of Digital Third Coast, which helped with the analysis. “But we realized as funny as the names are … what’s interesting about it is it’s such a young and new phenomenon that people don’t have a universal language to identify this stuff.”
The findings listed the top five tech ailments discovered through Google trends.
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Dr. Alex Lickerman, a physician who founded Imagine MD, translated them into medical diagnoses. He also weighed in on how to fix the problems that repetitive use of technology cause.
1. Texting thumb, gamer’s thumb or smartphone thumb
Tendons in the thumb or at the base of the thumb become inflamed because of repetitive use of the thumb when gripping phones or gaming devices. The symptoms are pain, swelling or a sticking sensation when the thumb is in motion.
The formal diagnosis is known as De Quervatein’s tenosynovitis or stenosing tenosynovitis.
The only way to cure this ailment is to give your thumb a rest, Lickerman said.
“Try to remain below the threshold at which your thumbs or fingers feel actual pain,” he said.
2. Selfie elbow, cellphone elbow or numb pinky finger
When pressure is applied to the ulnar nerve, which runs through the elbow and various tendons in the lower arm, pain, weakness and numbness or tingling in the ring or pinky fingers can occur.
This is the same nerve that jolts when you hit your “funny bone,” Lickerman said.
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Holding arms up and bent for extended periods of time is what causes selfie elbow. Think holding up a tablet or phone toward your chest or face or extending a phone in the air for a selfie
This is formally diagnosed as cubital tunnel syndrome or ulnar tunnel syndrome, Lickerman said.
The fix is to stop bending your elbows, he said. Prop up your tablet or phone instead of constantly holding it.
Lickerman said he has had to go as far as putting elbow splints on people who suffer from this condition.
3. Text neck, tech neck or phone neck
Leaning toward or over tech devices or scrunching a phone to your ear put stress on the spine and surrounding muscles. Symptoms include chronic pain and tightness in the neck and back muscles.
Its formal diagnosis? Well, it’s pretty simple: It’s called poor posture, Lickerman said.
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“This is a much more preventable one,” he said. “As long as you can keep your neck in a neutral position and keep your posture, you won’t have an issue.
“We have a tendency to lean our head forward because the skull and the brain weigh a bit and we bend forward,” Lickerman said. “And we put extra strain on them and it becomes painful.”
To fix this issue, sit up straight with good posture or put on a soft collar to keep your neck straight and the weight of your head off the neck, he said.
4. Computer eyes, eye fatigue or computer eye strain
Flashing, glare and contrast from tech devices strain the eyes when a person stares at a screen for too long. Headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain are the symptoms.
The formal diagnosis is computer vision syndrome.
Lickerman sees this particular ailment in patients the least because the eyes are generally used to reading and focusing and screen technology has improved so flashing isn’t as common.
The solution? Take a break.
5. Mouse shoulder, computer shoulder or gorilla arm syndrome
Hunching or rounding the shoulders while using a tech device paired with repetitive use of a mouse or touch screen creates tightness in neck and back muscles, chronic pain and inflammation.
The formal diagnosis is repetitive strain injury.
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Most of the problems could be considered repetitive strain injuries, Lickerman said. The key to avoiding them is to adjust habits, find new ways to operate tech devices and rest periodically.
Use the speakerphone option on a cellphone, find ergonomic products that adjust how a product is used and try not to push a body part to the point of pain.
And if you do come down one of these tech health problems? Lickerman’s rule of thumb is not only to rest the body part until it recovers but add one more week.
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“You actually have to listen to your body,” he said. “Pain is this fantastic guide that tells you when your body is still irritated.”
A few other interesting conditions that the research team found trending:
• Nomophobia. Fear of being without a smartphone or a signal. It similar to the popular term “FOMO,” which stands for fear of missing out.
• Phantom vibration syndrome. People think their phone is vibrating even when it’s not.
• Smartphone pinky. A temporary deformation or strain of a pinky finger from constantly using it to hold up a phone.
Our phones are like a magnet, Lickerman said. So having these real medical issues pop up, especially when social interactions and information sources are rooted in technology, is not surprising
His advice: Use phones and technology in moderation, and listen to your body when enough is enough.
“The key with repetitive injuries is they are repetitive,” Lickerman said. “You want to give your muscles and joints as much of a break in the habitual use of them as you can.”