If you’ll forgive me standing on a soapbox for a moment, it’s odd that we set aside this month for cell phone courtesy. It’s like National Brotherhood Week: why do we need to dedicate time to this and why is it only one week?
But the fact is, we do need to remind ourselves about cell phone courtesy.Too many Americans think of their phones as extensions of their bodies and employ them while attempting to do other things, like interact with others. And operate speeding masses of steel. But I’m less interested in courtesy than in safety. Cell phones are hurting our bodies.
Did you know that there is a condition known as Text Neck? It’s an increasingly common repetitive strain injury caused by people hunching over phones. This posture irritates the muscles in the neck, shoulders and sometimes even the back. We’re seeing it in adolescents and teens who never before suffered these injuries. Left untreated, this can cause serious misalignment of the cervical spine.
We’re Hurting Our Hands and Wrists
There is also a condition known as Blackberry Thumb, after the once-popular smartphone. Also a repetitive strain injury, it involves the hand, fingers or thumbs.
This is distinct from the growing incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome first seen in adolescents and teens about a decade ago. Long associated with the repetitive motion of typing on typewriters and word processors, carpal tunnel syndrome is now the domain of cell phones, specifically of texting. And because texting is often done with just the thumbs, its onset could occur earlier and its impact could be more severe.
Research in 2010 showed teens were sending an average of 3,146 text messages a month. One Chicago teen experienced shooting pains and tingly, numb sensations in her hands to the point that she could no longer hold her phone. When she sought relief, her doctor gave her the devastating news: she would have to cut back to 20-30 texts daily.
There is also cubital tunnel syndrome, or Cell Phone Elbow. That is numbness, tingling and pain in the forearm and hand caused by prolonged flexing of the elbow, which compresses and inflames the ulnar nerve.
A Chronic Pain in the Neck
Finally, ubiquitous cellphone use is causing chronic neck and back issues because it almost always causes the user to tilt their head forward and down to read. Just think about how your head is situated when you consult your phone.
Held that way for hours each day, the head puts immense strain on the neck. A head that weighs 10 pounds – the human average – imposes 40 pounds of pressure when tilted 30 degrees. The neck is not designed to hold up 40 pounds at an angle for hours on end.
The muscles, ligaments and tendons are all stressed in that position, which in turn distributes strain onto the vertebrae in the neck. In the coming decades, chiropractors may be seeing a lot of people suffering from a plethora of back and neck pain whose source they can’t pinpoint.
All of which leads us to the idea of cell phone courtesy – put down your phone now and then. It shouldn’t be on at funerals or weddings, in hospitals or museums. You shouldn’t be talking on your phone in elevators or in places of worship, or even on line at the grocery store. And you certainly can’t be a good driver while using your phone, even just to talk.
So put down the phone occasionally.
The people around you will appreciate it. And so will your back, neck, shoulders, elbow and wrists.