Doctors are seeing an increase in the number of tech-related problems, and we’re hearing new terms that we’ve never heard before. Blackberry thumb, cell phone elbow, and computer vision syndrome are the newest ailments to float around a doctor’s office.
Doctor Mike Tuggy of Swedish Family Medicine on First Hill, as well as many other physicians report seeing more patients whose excessive use of technology has led to serious medical problems.
"Now we're seeing more of the finger and thumb problems related to using small keyboards. People using their phones, I-phones, Blackberry, I-pads. Things like that tapping away with their thumbs primarily.”
He says our fingers aren’t really designed to be doing the tiny, repetitive motions involved in texting and other modern manipulations, over and over again.
“That’s one of the things we know about these types of repetitive injuries. Over time, the bones change, the tendons and ligaments get swollen. Over time you can develop arthritis in some areas.”
Nerve problems in elbows can happen from holding a cell phone for extended periods.
Tuggy has added questions about cell phone use, and computer habits at his office visits. He stresses moderation to his patients, and also suggests varying up the tools we use. He also points to young adults.
“They text hundreds of messages a day. Over time that’s thousands of repetitive hand movements, that our fingers are not supposed to be doing. We could see people ten to fifteen years from now with a lot of thumb arthritis. We might see it in 35 year olds because they’ve been doing it since they were 20. “
When we’re talking about computer vision problems, it’s the increasing amount of time people are spending looking at computer screens and hand-held devices that is affecting their vision. As of November of 2009, 57 percent of U.S. adults had two or more computers and 63 percent of people actively used the Internet. The number of Americans using cell phones more than doubled from 109 million in 2000, to 285 million in 2009.