If you’re like me, you spend a LOT of time on your SmartPhone. But you and I aren’t unique. Look around you. Everywhere you go, you’ll see almost everyone on their SmartPhone. They’re either texting someone, talking to someone, using an APP, or looking up something or other. We’ve become addicted to our SmartPhones and it’s affecting your body. Let me tell you how…
Your SmartPhone and Muscle Aches
Mankind evolved precisely by his ability to put his hands to good use making and using tools for his survival. Fast forwarding thousands of years to today finds mankind using their hands in a way that’s never occurred before in our evolution. A device called a SmartPhone has come into our lives and we’re using our hands in more repetitive, faster movements than we ever have in the past.
SmartPhone hand movements are affecting a part of our brain called our Somatosensory Center. This is the part of your brain that governs touch, as well as your other senses of smell, taste, sight, etc. Using your touch, you’re able to discern simply what an object is, even if your eyes are closed. It can tell you temperature of objects as well as its general character. Is it sharp? Could it cut me? Is it slippery, could I drop it if I try to pick it up?
Impressions of your environment, that you come in contact with through your sense of touch, are conveyed to your somatosensory center of your brain. If this part of your brain is injured somehow, you senses could be thrown way off. Using SmartPhone screens have caused an alteration in the way our hands function and the way messages are received in the somatosensory center. Chronic SmartPhone screening has caused the somatosensory cortex to enlarge. This is the part that controls our ability to use our thumbs – an appendage exclusive to man.
In some ways, this enlargement is a good thing. It has speeded up the reaction time between your fingertips and your brain. The somatosensory center is much quicker now at processing the messages sent through touch to this part of your brain. It has increased the sensitivity in your fingertips.
The not so good result of this heightened brain/fingertip connection, is an “overuse dystonia”. Dystonia simply means “poor” or “dysfunctional” tone that comes from repetitive over-use of muscles, ligaments, etc. It shows up in chronic muscle aches, cramps, spasms and contractions that can lead to chronic pain in the hands, wrists and forearms. It can even lead to movement disorders as movements can be impaired from spasm and pain, especially as you get older.
Can You Avoid SmartPhone Induced Dystonia?
Well, yes and no. That all depends on how much time you’re willing to give up using your SmartPhone, or how you’re willing to use it. Finding out how much time you actually spend on your SmartPhone per day may surprise you. Keeping a typical day’s log of your usage may highlight areas where you can cut back. You likely will find some areas of your day where you don’t have to constantly interact with your SmartPhone. Can you simply not answer certain texts more than once a day? Can you let your phone go to voice mail more often and collect messages at certain intervals during the day?
In addition, you may want to look into voice activated texting and email composing options so that you aren’t relying solely on repetitive use of your thumbs and fingertips. Voice activated options also offer a safer benefit while driving. You can attach your SmartPhone to your console and simply direct your phone with your voice to call someone, look up information, program your directions traveling somewhere, or send a text.
Many of my patients, and readers like you, may be parents and/or grandparents of “tweens” or older teenagers. Their SmartPhone seems to be an extra appendage growing out of their hands and its earphone taking up permanent residence in their ears. So, likely telling them to limit their SmartPhone use for their own future health is going to go over like a lead balloon.
But, you may want to explain to them that constant “digitalizing” on their SmartPhones can lead to future movement disorders of their hands and forearms as well as sore thumbs and hands and numb fingertips right now. And the jury is still out on how constant energy from electromagnetic fields constantly hitting the brain through ear receivers/mikes is going to affect future brain health. And even though these changes affect older people, it’s these younger generations who will be more profoundly affected by somatosensory changes and movement disorders in their future.
For now, though, there is enough research by orthopedists to warrant constant SmartPhone usage a hazard to thumb, finger, hand and wrist health. I know after reading these findings, I’ve been cutting back on my SmartPhone time and am looking into voice activation models. Cutting back on your SmartPhone screen usage today could save you a lot of pain in the future.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Excessive SmartPhone Use Leaves Its Mark On The Brain, http://orthopedicsurgerysandiego.com/excessive-smart-phone-use-leaves-its-mark-on-the-brain/