By Robert A. Poarch
If you’ve ever wondered if you’re spending too much time on your phone, consider that Webster’s defines “nomophobia” as the “fear of being without access to a working cell phone.” It’s real. And, you’re not alone.
Whether it’s texting, browsing or Candy Crushing, what is this digital addiction doing to your well-being? Here are four health risks associated with spending too much time in front of your screen:
1) Text Neck Looking down at your smartphone (as well as laptops) for long periods of time can cause spinal problems that can result in headaches, upper back pain, shoulder pain and neck pain. When you’re standing upright, head forward, there’s no stress on your neck. When you’re reading a phone, usually bending your neck at a sixty-degree angle, the increased pressure causes stress on your body.
The Fix: Reduce the stress on your neck by holding your phone at eye level. This keeps your neck safely at zero degrees.
2) Text Claw Spending a lot of time texting and browsing on your phone can lead to soreness and cramping in your fingers, wrist and forearm. Similar to tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, which are linked to overuse and repetitive motions, text claw is essentially breakdown of soft tissue around muscle and bone in your hand.
The Fix: Maintain good posture, avoid gripping your phone too tight and take a break. To alleviate pain, apply heat and stretch your hand and fingers backward.
3) Eye Damage Hours of reading tiny text can lead to sore eyes, dry eyes, dizziness and blurred vision. Normally, we blink about 15 times per minute, but this rate decreases by 100 percent when staring at our phones. Also, research shows that the phone’s blue-violet light could have a harmful effect on the backs of the eyes, leading to macular degeneration and even blindness.
The Fix: For every 20 minutes of staring at the phone, do 20 minutes looking at things farther away.
4) Sleep Deprivation Experts believe that staring at an illuminated screen, particularly in bed at night, sends the wrong signal to your brain, keeping us awake and alert. Studies have shown that devices with screens affect REM cycles and melatonin, a hormone linked to sleepiness.
The Fix: Avoid using the phone (and computers and TVs) at least one hour before you get into bed.
Balancing your digital life and your real life is key to avoiding problems and staying healthy. If you experience phone-related pain for a week or more, make an appointment to see your primary care physician. To find a Mission Health primary care physician who’s best for you, visit mission-health.org/primarycare.
Reviewed for the Mission Health Blog by Lyndsay Herbert, MD, a primary care physician at Mission Community Medicine Old Fort.