From Text Neck to Hogwarts Headache: 6 Injuries for the Modern Era

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Our shiny new gadgets (and one teen wizard) are proving once again that human beings are really easily breakable.

1. Text Neck

Texting image via Shutterstock

Do you have shooting pains down your neck and arm, as well as numbness or tingling in your fingers and hand? If you're over forty, you might want to call an ambulance — you could be having a heart attack. If you’re younger than that, though, it could be the fashionable new injury among cell phone users: text neck. Yes, it seems that the act of hunching over our phones for most of our waking hours might actually have some negative side effects.

Back pain clinics and chiropractors in North America and Europe are reporting seeing thousands upon thousands of text neck cases. One chiropractor, Dean L. Fishman, has seen so many injuries directly caused by over-texting that he now specializes in their treatment, registering the term and opening the Text Neck Institute. He also trains other chiropractors in how to fix the problems resulting from the fact that we all really hate actually speaking to other people. Fishman calls text neck a “global epidemic” and claims his youngest patient is three years old. The Institute’s website describes the problem like this:

“Looking down at the screen on their hand held mobile device for long periods of time… will cause changes in the curve, supporting ligaments, tendons, and musculature, as well as the bony segments. Eventually there may be nerve involvement, muscle spasms and pain.”

So pretty soon we’re all going to be mute hunchbacks that can’t feel their fingers. Awesome. Speaking of fingers…

2. BlackBerry Thumb (aka Nintendo Thumb)

BlackBerry image via Shutterstock

BlackBerry Thumb is such a prevalent malady among businessmen and women that it has been covered everywhere from Wired to Consumer Reports. Since phones with built-in keyboards are awkward to type on using our fingers, we end up using just our thumbs. This in turn causes a repetitive strain injury, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, that results in swelling, pain, and yet more numbness.

Dr. Alan Hedge of Cornell University explained to WebMD that thumbs are the least flexible part of our hands, and there is a reason we only use them to hit the space bar on an actual keyboard:

“[The thumb] is really designed as a stabilizer for pinch gripping with a finger. That is why you only have two of them, not eight. It is the fingers that have dexterity, not the thumb. If you're trying to type War and Peace with your thumbs, then you're going to have a problem."

But BlackBerry Thumb is really just a new, hip rebranding of an older, nerdier tech injury: Nintendo Thumb. PC Magazine defined it as a “repetitive stress injury due to excessive video game playing [that] causes a swelling at the base of the thumb.”

Gamers still suffer from Nintendo Thumb, but there are even more modern ways for you to hurt yourself while playing video games.

3. Wii Wrist

Oversize Wiimote image via Shutterstock

As Nintendo invents new ways to keep us entertained, it also continues to highlight parts of our bodies that are especially fragile. After Nintendo Thumb came Wii Wrist, part of a larger group of painful “Wiinjuries.”

When the Wii first came out, there were lots of stories of individuals breaking televisions, tables, their fingers, and other people’s noses when the remote accidentally flew out of their grasp, or they weren’t paying attention and smacked their hands into things (or people). But over time those injuries lessened, mostly thanks to the wrist strap, and repetitive strain injuries and over-stretched muscles in the shoulder and wrist increased.

Even things that made the Wii more fun could impact your wrist, like the vibrating of the controller. Thankfully, wrists can be strengthened, and if you're willing to put in the time and effort, with just a few minutes a day of special wrist exercises you can be cured of your Wiinjury forever!

4. Ear Bud Oblivion

Jogger image via Shutterstock

In the old days, if you wanted to rupture your eardrums while out walking, you needed to carry around a boom box. Now, however, you can discretely listen to Adele’s dulcet tones on full blast, your tiny earbuds ensuring drivers have no idea you can’t hear them coming.

The results of a study by the University of Maryland Medical School found that thanks to the increasing use of earbuds, pedestrian accidents have tripled since 2006. And we’re not talking just broken bones here; three-quarters of the incidents covered by the study were fatal. It’s not just the fact that you can’t hear cars coming; it’s also the general distraction of the music, making you less likely to check before you cross the street, for example. We all have it drilled into our heads in kindergarten to look both ways, but just stick some tiny plastic speakers in our adult ears and we forget all about it.

It’s becoming such a problem that New York, Oregon, Virginia, and California are even considering legislation — similar to laws limiting cell phone use in cars — which would ban pedestrians and cyclists from using distracting devices like phones or iPods while crossing streets or in traffic. In 2011, a bill in Arkansas attempting to make it illegal for all pedestrians to wear two earbuds at a time was withdrawn after a huge backlash.

5. iPad Shoulder

Cell phones? Wiis? iPods? Please, those injuries are for the unwashed masses. These days, the truly elite suffer from iPad Shoulder. Because it can be used to watch movies and read books, some people spend even more time hunched over their tablet than their phone. The resulting pain is bad enough that it warranted a study by Dr. Jack Dennerlein from Harvard University, whose results were published in the prestigious Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation. He had study participants do a variety of everyday tasks on their tablets, then measured their postures with an “infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system.”

What Dr. Dennerlein found was that with tablets, you really can’t win. When viewing or reading, it's best to prop your iPad up at the most extreme angle the case allows for (even the lesser angles can be bad for your posture). But if you start typing, you need to lay it flat, since typing at an angle can cause joint pain and inflammation. One thing we can safely say at this point, though, is that any gadget you own is eventually likely to cause you some sort of joint pain and inflammation.

6. Hogwarts Headache

© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

The only non-tech malady on this list, but a modern phenomenon nonetheless: a few years ago any cool kid who could read was suffering from Hogwarts Headache. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine actually ran a letter from a physician noting the unfortunate side effect of children reading more, and for longer periods, than they ever had in their lives. Yes, thanks to a couple extremely long (ostensibly children’s) books, an increasing number of parents brought their kids to the doctors with tension headaches. Since it is rare for children to suffer from chronic headaches like that, the doctors were stumped.

Then one pediatrician, Dr. Howard J. Bennett, finally realized that all three of the headache-ridden children he saw in one week were obsessively reading the newly released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a book that runs to over a quarter of a million words. Two of his patients refused to stop reading at their current rate, instead opting for a prescription to dull the pain. He noted that, “In all cases, the pain resolved one to two days after the patient had finished the book.”

So far there have been no reported cases of Bella Blackouts or Twilight Torpor.

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January 30, 2012 - 8:06am
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