Technology today can be a pain in the neck, or the hand; April is National Occupational Therapy Month

Tami Gebel ...

by Tami Gebel,
Occupational Therapist

Have you heard someone over the age of 60 years old say.... “In my day, we didn’t have computers to do all of these things for us.” When they were young, writer’s cramp was a pain in the hand caused by holding a pencil for too long while writing on paper. These days, writer’s cramp is rare because everything is typed, texted, emailed or faxed. Today the pain experienced from technology use is not limited to our hands; we have pains in our eyes, back, neck, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  There is even new terminology, such as ‘texting thumb,’ ‘text claw,’ and ‘text neck’ to describe the pains we are experiencing with use of cell phones, computers, tablets, laptops, and even video gaming systems.

People of all ages who are using smart phones to text, check Facebook, and play “Candy Crush” and other games, are finding that muscles and joints are painful and stiff, and some are experiencing  swelling and numbness. Even children who are spending increasing amounts of time using computers at school and then come home to play their video games are experiencing discomfort that can last throughout their lives if it is not addressed.

Here are some ways to alleviate or eliminate pain from technology use:

1. Position the device correctly. The computer, tablet, laptop or smart phone screen should be at eye level. The keyboard should allow your elbows to be loosely bent at 90 degree angles at your side. Try to keep your head, shoulders, and elbows in a straight line to prevent slouching of your back and neck.
2. Take frequent breaks.  You may need to set a timer to remember to take rest breaks. Get up, move around, and stretch. Exercise is a great way to keep your body in good condition and keep muscles strong in order to prevent stress on joints.
3. Use accessories. There are devices that allow hands to be free, such as dictation software and headsets. Tablets and reading devices have stands to prop devices at eye level. Also, tablets and laptops now have detachable keyboards that allow for better posture. Use of a separate mouse instead of the built-in mouse allows for use of larger joints instead of the smaller joints of the thumbs and fingers. Also, use a stylus pen to reduce frequent use of fingers.
4. Become ambidextrous; learn to use both hands to complete typing, texting and turning pages.

If you are interested in learning more about modifications that can be made to your working environment or about learning specific stretches to reduce specific pains, contact your physician for a referral for occupational therapy. You may call to set up an appointment with the occupational therapists, Tami Gebel or Melissa Clarke, at Veterans Memorial Hospital by calling 563-568-5528.