5 Fitness Fixes for Silly Gadget Injuries
Who wants to be seen with cell-phone neck or laptop slouch? Dodge these pesky physical hazards caused by too much talking, texting, and typing
By: Emily G. W. Chau
Texting Troubles, Anyone?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
You’ve heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, but what about Wii-itis? These are just two of a host of tech-related injuries that are as painful as they are embarrassing to admit you’ve experienced. We’ve traded in writer’s bump for BlackBerry thumb, and with every new gizmo, we find some physical hazard that comes with it. “BlackBerry thumb and Wii elbow are similar to other overuse injuries that we’ve seen in the past,” says Mary Ann Wilmarth, DPT, chief of physical therapy at Harvard University and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. “They’re now more prevalent because we’re using our hands more for texting and typing.”
Don’t let these gadgets get the upper hand. When technology takes a toll, try these simple exercises to stretch and strengthen your hands, forearms, neck, and shoulders.
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Don’t we know it? Too much texting, tweeting, and BBM-ing can strain your thumbs and shorten the tendons and muscles in your hands. Once reported only by businessmen glued to their PDAs, BlackBerry thumb and its cousin iPod finger are now as ubiquitous as Red Sox hats in New England. “Thumbs are made for gripping and stabilizing, not dexterity,” says Wilmarth. “When you’re using your thumbs to type, you’re essentially using your thumb the opposite way it was designed.”
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Tech Rx: Open your hand and stretch out your fingers as wide as possible. You can further strengthen your hand and wrist extensors by putting an elastic or rubber band around your fingers as you perform the exercise. This also helps spread the load among your other digits to give all your fingers some typing TLC.
Wii-itisQuick rabbit punches can win you the Wii Boxing championship title, but too many rounds of Wii Sports can strain your joints big time. Much like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, Wii-itis refers to soreness in your shoulders or elbows caused by the repetitive strain of one too many virtual swings.
Tech Rx: Although you feel pain in your elbow, stretching your forearms and strengthening your wrist flexors and extensors will help, says Wilmarth. With your arm reached out in front of you, flex your fingers downward, palms down. Turn your hand palm-side up, and pull your fingers down with your opposite hand. Concentric and eccentric wrist movements will also help. Grab a small 1-pound dumbbell in one hand and rest that forearm along your thigh. Slowly bend and flex your wrist, lifting and lowering the weight.
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Laptop Slouch“We spend a large portion of our waking day with a forward impetus—we’re either sitting in front of a computer, hunched over our cell phones, or driving. Everything is pulling us forward and our posture suffers,” says Robert Reames, CPT, official trainer and nutritionist for the Dr. Phil Show and spokesperson for Gold’s Gym International. Laptops are particularly bad from an ergonomic perspective. You either have to slouch forward to see the screen and type comfortably, or raise your screen to eye level and type with your hands raised in the air.
Tech Rx: Pull your shoulders back and align your spine with a wall sit. With your back to a wall, bend your knees into a semi-squat position. Hold for 2 minutes and then stand. To counter the turtle-like forward head posture, perform a chin tuck. Sit up straight and pull your chin as far back to your neck as you can, as if to create a double chin. Release.
Cell-Phone Neck Never-ending conference calls and long-distance breakups can give you a headache for more than one reason. Many people cradle their cell phone between their shoulder and ear to free up their hands, but cocking your head to the side for hours disproportionately shortens the muscles on one side of your neck and lengthens the other.
Tech Rx: Strengthen your upper back, posterior shoulder, and rotator cuff muscles with shoulder rolls and shoulder blade squeezes. External rotations—rowing your arms back and then lifting your hands as if up in surprise—should also help with neck issues, says Wilmarth.
Carpal TunnelOfficially, carpal tunnel syndrome refers to a condition whereby your median nerve becomes squeezed at the wrist, resulting in a twinging or numbing sensation from your wrist up to your arm. However, many people lump together tendonitis and writer’s cramp when referring to general wrist pain due to repetitive movements.
Tech Rx: Contrary to popular belief, resting your forearms on computer wrist pads while typing actually strains your wrists more. Why? The position causes you to isolate movement from your wrists, instead of generating it from your shoulder and spine. A safer bet: Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your wrists raised in a neutral position. You can also fend off carpal tunnel with basic wrist-flexor and extensor exercises.
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