Here at Brighton Physiotherapy & Sports Therapy you would expect us to see lots of sporting injuries. Which we do. But amongst other occupational injuries we’re seeing an increasing amount of gadget related injuries – in an increasingly more youthful part of the population.
So what kind of problems do we see most of? Here’s a description of the most common tech-related overuse conditions. More importantly we’ve included a combination of helpful physio tips or exercises to ensure that you don’t end up in same the situation.
You’ve been swiping for hours on end looking for your ‘ideal’ partner on Tinder and suddenly your thumb (or preferred swiping digit) starts hurting. It’s not a huge surprise. This can obviously be affected by any tech related excessive digit use. Back in the day it was texter’s thumb but now the technology has evolved we’re seeing a slightly different over use condition.
The muscles and therefore the tendons that extend the thumb when swiping (or texting) your phone screen are quite simply getting worn out. Overusing these muscles increases the load on the tendons which start to complain in the form of pain. This in turn can cause irritation of the radial nerve which can start to get really painful.
If you want to get technical you could call this condition tenosynovitis of the pollicis tendons, which just sounds plain scary! It can also be referred to as De Quervain’s syndrome which sounds a bit less threatening although be wary of any condition with the word syndrome on the end – it normally means the medical profession has no idea what it actually is.
Firstly put the phone down. There are very few people – other than my mum – who are guilty of not using their smart phone enough. Everyone under the age of say 50 seems to be glued to their phone permanently. Who needs conversation anymore anyway? Simply reducing your usage will avoid or ease this condition and may even improve your social life! Granted you may get a few less Tinder dates but how many dates do you really need?
As far as Physio exercises it depends how far the condition has progressed. Here a couple of lesser known stretches to hit the spot. Please always stretch to comfort not to pain. That would be counterproductive.
Wrist extensor stretch. Place your hand out in front of you with the palm facing the floor. Have your arm straight and at shoulder level. From here use your other hand to pull your hands downwards as shown in the picture. This should help relieve the tension in the muscles that affect that radial nerve.
Thumb stretch. It’s worth working out how on earth you do it. When you get it right it feels nice. If a little awkward. Grasp your thumb inside a clenched fist and then move your wrist and thumb downwards towards your little finger into the position shown. You should feel this stretch over the top of your thumb and part way up the side of your forearm.
Leaning on your desk whilst working on your computer whether that be desktop, laptop or tablet is just bad news. It can cause all kinds of problems that we’ve discussed many times before in our office job series.
However, specifically resting your elbows on your desk can cause a relatively rare condition that at best is unsightly and worst can lead to infection in the arm and need urgent medical attention. Nobody wants this.
If you’re the kind of person who regularly gets sore elbows when working too long it suggests you may be at risk of this condition. Leaning on your elbows can aggravate the bursa of the elbow. Unlike many conditions this is super easy to diagnose because your elbow will swell up to look like you have a tennis ball on the end of your elbow! If this does happen go to the docs. If you don’t want this to happen. Don’t sit all day leaning on the point of your elbows looking fed up.
If you’re the kind of person who has sensitive elbows at the end of your working day and are wondering why it is exactly you who this bit of advice is aimed at. A sensitive elbow means you are more at risk from the full blown condition. Think of it is a warning to get the elbows off the desk – or a more interesting job. Whichever is easier!
This condition occurs when a tablet is held away from the torso with both arms so that the user can view the screen. Either in your lap or whilst on your back holding the tablet over your head. Holding this position for an extended time can cause adaptive shortening of the bicep muscles and lead to a plethora of problems.
It may affect your bicep tendons at the or bottom giving you pain in the front of your shoulder or pain in the crease of your elbow. Or it may contribute to more RSI type conditions which may manifest themselves in or around the wrist, elbow and forearm.
Physio Advice / Exercise
Firstly try not to spend too much time on tablet full stop. There’s more to life! Secondly, try changing positions frequently so your muscles don’t get stuck in the mud so to speak.
From an exercise perspective here’s a picture of another lesser known stretch for the biceps. It’s shown here with a chair but you may find it works better with your hands on the bed. To start with kneel with your back to the bed / chair. Then slowly raise your arms up to rest your hands on the surface you are using to stretch. If you get pain at any point don’t do this stretch. You are aiming to gets the backs of your hands on the bed / chair. The more rotation inwards you have i.e. more pressure on the thumb side of your hand the more stretch your should get.
With computer work being the norm these days a lot of people can end up looking like Quasimodo. Particularly if you’re not enjoying your work as we discuss in our article talking about the relationship of stress and pain. A lot of people spend upwards of 7 hours a day sat in their office chair so if you’re not doing it right then some kind of RSI or low back pain is an inevitability. Especially when the stress levels ramp up.
Sort your posture out! Now this isn’t a sit up military straight thing. That will give you other issues. It’s trying to find the neutral position where forces acting through your body are nicely balanced.
We find that if we get the pelvis lined up nicely to start with then it’s harder for other things to go wrong further away from your centre. Famous last words! We use this so often in the clinic we’ve made a handy YouTube video here so you can watch it over and over until you find that happy place for your pelvis:
If your bad posture is because you don’t like your job. Get a new one. What could possibly go wrong!
Mouse Squeaky Wrist Syndrome
We see this a lot. We’ll focus on the wrist here but excess mouse work can causes all kinds of issues. But how is it that some people have problems from using a mouse and other don’t? Being the incredible, amazing, adaptable thing that the human body is surely it can cope with doing a few thousand mouse clicks per day?
And it can. But some people are more at risk than others. And we’re all more at risk when we’re stressed. Stress aside there are plenty of postural things we can do to reduce our risk of such issues.
Physio Advice / Stretches
The main tip here is to ensure that you don’t reach for the mouse. Many people reach a long way forward for the mouse. Make sure the mouse is pretty much in line with your keyboard. Make sure the profile of the mouse suits you. That is make sure you’re not reaching up to the buttons. If you have a small hand chances are you have to reach up to the mouse. There are many products which provide a little cushion for your wrist to sit on so you don’t have to reach up to the mouse buttons.
A nice catch all stretch that should help most wrist conditions is believe it or not for the shoulder.
It’s a pec stretch which holds people in dubious postures and further pulls them into positions which means the muscles around the wrist are less able to cope with the demands placed on them. Here’s a demo video ‘starring’ your’s truly to show you how:
One of the many disadvantages of a laptop machine – he says typing away on a laptop – is that we have to look down to it. Desktop monitors tend to be more out in front of us. With prolonged laptop use the muscles that pull our head down and forwards can become short and tight.
Physio Advice and Exercise
Firstly minimise laptop usage and use a desktop machine where possible. Alternatively plug your laptop onto a docking station for a monitor you are able to have in front of you. Plug in a mouse too as these are better than tracker pads for avoiding developing RSI.
As for a stretch this next stretch compliments the pec stretch really nicely in opening out the chest. Reducing the tension on the muscles at the back of the neck which oppose this posture. As shown in the picture grab a door frame just above the level of your shoulder. Push your backside out behind you as far as you can or until you start to feel a stretch. From here rotate inwards, towards the side you are stretching. As if you’re sniffing you own arm pit! Hold a comfortable stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Lying horizontal and propping up your head with pillows can lead to a shortening of the muscles in your neck much the same as too much laptop work. This will contribute to that common feeling we’ve all felt at some point of tightness along the tops of the shoulders. Particularly having done too much work or too much Kindle reading in a dodgy position.
Quite simply when you intend reading for a prolonged period make sure you do so in a position that isn’t crumpled and lazy. If you want to be lazy lay on the bed and read. But equally be sure not to stay in the same position for hours on end. Maybe get up and have a stretch every now and again or make your self a nice cup of herbal tea.
Standing Desk Ache
People are just as good at adopting poor posture standing up as they are sitting down. Whether they have a proper stand up desk or not. Most people will put more weight through one leg or the other which then puts the pelvis in an imbalanced position which can lead to pain in and around the pelvis or elsewhere in the body.
There is a growing trend for people to have stand up desks to sort out all of their issues. We see lots of people at the clinics who have stand up desks but still have lots of symptoms. Instead of demanding a stand up desk at work try working on the way you sit as in our video above.
If you already have a stand up desk we’ve found with the people that use them already that mixed use is the most effective way. In other words an hour or two on your feet followed by an hour or two sat down. It’s when you get tired, or hacked off with your work, that your posture goes.
Fit Bit Over Excitement
Overuse of your Fit Bit can lead to doing too much activity too soon. Keeping your Fit Bit happy without allowing your body time to adapt. So many people go from doing next to nothing to doing 10k steps a day. Looking at their fit bit every 5 minutes to see how many more steps they have done.
If you don’t allow your muscles time to recover, they get tired out quicker and stay tighter for longer. Potentially leading to pains in areas you didn’t previously know you had. It’s much the same with any injury. You need to give your body time to adapt to the new strains you are placing on it.
As such when you get your new Fit Bit increase your amount of steps gradually. Look to have a longer day most likely at the weekend when you have more time. Then a daily minimum which will encourage you to make sure you have a walk at lunchtime at work – even on your busiest days. If you’re not getting any aches or pains you can increase the amount quite quickly. But it’s always better to start with a gradual increase in volume.
Gamers Rage Tension
Your favourite game of choice may be ruining your body. Never mind your social life! If you’re getting wound up by not getting to the next level of Tetris (showing my age!) firstly it’s not very relaxing. Secondly the angry postures you may be getting into whilst you play may well be tensing up your entire body.
Take some time out instead to do some proper relaxation. Maybe some relaxation breathing exercises. Alternatively do some exercise or read a kindle – with impeccable posture of course.
Technology helps us in our lives in so many ways but it’s important not to get carried away with it. While it makes many of our everyday tasks easier prolonged exposure can have negative psychological and physical effects. In the modern world not many of us have a choice. Our life ‘demands’ that we use technology for pretty much every hour of the day. We hope this little campaign will help you get a new balance in the use of technology and the pursuit of more traditional pastimes.
We also hope when you now have / want to use technology you do so in a manner that means you are least likely to do yourself any damage. Stay calm out there folks and stare at things other than little screens.