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How your smartphone is hurting you

April 19, 2016
smartphones can cause pain in your neck and elsewhere

If you're like 64 percent of Americans, you own a smartphone. For many, it's become a device they just can't live without. However, too much screen time can wreck havoc on your body. Learn what smartphone habits you should break now.

Hand, wrist and forearm pain

"Overuse of a smartphone can potentially lead to injuries of the thumb or hand, such as De Quervain's tendonitis," said Erica Taylor, MD, a hand specialist at Duke Orthopaedics of Raleigh. De Quervain's tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons of the thumb that extend to the wrist. The pain may travel into the thumb or up the forearm.

"I haven't seen any patients because of overuse of their smartphone, but I have had patients complain of wrist tendonitis after prolonged video game use on their tablets. Treatment typically includes rest, anti-inflammatory medication and in significant cases, hand therapy and cortisone injections."

Neck pain

"The harms of smartphone use have not been well-studied, but frequent use can lead to a 'head down' or 'neck flexed' posture," said Anand Joshi, MD, an Interventional spine specialist with Duke Spine Center.

Good posture naturally places 10-12 pounds of force on the neck. Bending the neck 15 degrees increases that force to 27 pounds. Bending the neck 60 degrees causes up to 60 pounds of force on the neck. "It seems possible that the amount of force on the neck may lead to more pain, disability and possibly even surgery," he said.

Eye strain

"Smartphones are not as harmful to your eyes as they are for your posture," said Mays El-Dairi, MD, a pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Center. "But staring at your smartphone for hours can potentially trigger symptoms of eyestrain."

Symptoms can include blurred vision, dry eyes, eye irritation, and discomfort. "Neither eyestrain nor dry eyes is associated with any permanent damage and both can easily be treated with artificial tears and wearing the proper eyewear," she said.