Not that long ago, a forearm made sore by too much computer mousing was the extent of technology-related injuries a person might experience. But the widespread use of an increasing variety of technology—pads, laptops, smartphones—has detonated a cache of related conditions, from tight necks and sore backs to text thumb pain—and increased stress.
Oh, and those sore arms caused by too much mousing? They’re still around as well.
“Anyone who has spent much time on a computer, cellphone, tablet or other advanced electronic device has surely experienced the discomfort of poor body mechanics and repetitive straining,” manual therapy specialist Rick Bates, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., C.F.T., told MASSAGE Magazine.
“These problems are not limited to the neck, as more and more people seek relief from shoulder, arms, wrists, hands, low-back and hip pain,” added Bates, who is an elite trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association and also holds credentials in exercise therapy and nutrition.
Massage therapy can provide the damage control needed to combat text thumb and other injuries of the digital age.
The first smartphone was introduced by Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs (1955–2011), in 2007. Eight years on, 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone, according to the article, “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015,” published by the Pew Research Center.
Talking on a phone might strain one’s arm or elbow after a while—but combine that with holding a smartphone in front of your body while looking down at it and typing, texting or surfing the Internet for the American average of 4.9 hours every day—the figure arrived at by a 2015 Informate Mobile Intelligence report—and you’ve lit the fuse leading to physical problems related to the neck.
The average human head weighs about 12 pounds—but for every inch the head hangs forward, the amount of weight put on the spine increases by 10 pounds, a statistic attributed to I.A. Kapandji, M.D., in his book, The Physiology of the Joints: The Trunk and the Vertebral Column, and used widely by health professionals to illustrate the dangers of forward-head posture.
See how hours of peering down at a smartphone combined with 40-or-more pounds dangling from the spine can be an explosive combination—one that causes pain, tension and lack of mobility in the neck?
This posture can also result in a loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine, according to Kenneth K. Hansraj, M.D., chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, in New York, New York, whose findings were published in the study, “Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head,” published by Surgical Technology International Online in 2014.
“Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine,” Hansraj wrote. “These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries.”
He also noted that while it is “nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over.”
As they say, that is easier said than done, as evidenced by an increasing number of massage clients presenting with technology-related disorders, according to Bates.
“High-tech devices have not only had a big impact on how we interact with each other, they have also had a big impact on the manual therapy industry, as more people look for alternatives to pain-relieving and muscle-relaxing medications,” he said.
Not only does massage therapy provide some very needed downtime in a quiet and peaceful setting, it can also work out the kinks and knots in tight and stressed muscles created by hours spent on computers and other high-tech devices, he added.
Muscles, ligaments and tendons all benefit from massage—but so does the mind, and this betterment is needed, as well, as Americans’ use of technology increases.
A smartphone or pad is basically a tiny computer, one on which a person can talk, type, text, send an email, and do research on anything from a personal health condition to the next time a blockbuster movie is showing at the local theater. As we try to manage our lives via technological tools, we feel effects mentally and emotionally, educator and author Cyndie Koopsen, R.N., told MASSAGE Magazine.
“For most people today, being connected means being constantly available through phones or email, juggling numerous tasks in their personal and professional lives, and sorting through mounds of information coming from multiple sources,” said Koopsen, who is co-CEO of ALLEGRA Learning Solutions LLC, a company that designs and develops education courses and certificate programs, and the co-author of Spirituality, Health, and Healing: An Integrative Approach and Integrative Health: A Holistic Approach for Health Professionals.
This multitasking using digital devices can contribute to a condition called technostress, she added, a term coined by Michelle M. Weil, Ph.D., and Larry Rosen, Ph.D., authors of TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @ WORK @ HOME @ PLAY.
Technostress can be defined in several ways, Koopsen said, but for many people, it means the negative impact on thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or physiological responses caused either directly or indirectly by technology.
According to Koopsen, a more severe mental effect, technosis, can be ignited via digital devices: “People who allow themselves to be drawn into the technological abyss become more machine-oriented and less sensitive to their own needs and the needs of others,” Koopsen said. “With some people, they become so immersed in technology that they risk losing their own identity—this is called technosis.”
Defuse with Massage
How can massage help divert the salvo of mental and emotional stress launched by technology? By providing that downtime Bates referred to earlier; by the calming effects massage has on the nervous system; and more. According to Koopsen, massage therapy:
- increases one’s awareness of the mind-body connection
- improves immune function
- decreases stress and aids in relaxation
- reduces muscle tension and stiffness
- increases range of motion
- fosters the healing of strained muscles and ligaments
- reduces the pain and swelling of overused muscles and tissues
- promotes blood and lymph circulation
- improves posture
- relieves mental stress
- improves sleep and the ability to think calmly and creatively
- improves cognition and mood
- decreases anxiety brought on from long hours at the computer or discomfort in the neck, back, and shoulders brought on by the extensive use of technological devices.
Survive a Hectic Lifestyle
“It wasn’t that long ago when massage therapy was only enjoyed by very wealthy individuals or others that were considered health nuts,” Bates said. “Today, more and more people are aware of the health benefits of a regular massage.”
The people Bates sees at his Hands on Healing Massage Center in Gainesville, Georgia, don’t book appointments for massage because they want to be pampered, he said. “They come because massage provides them the ability to perform at their best—whether that be in the corporate setting or to just survive the stresses of a hectic lifestyle.”
Anyone who uses a smartphone, pad, joystick, laptop or desktop computer does not need to wait until the cumulative effects of digital device use explodes into a stiff neck, painful hands or emotional stress. Regular massage therapy can defuse those effects and keep one’s mind and body ready for the next challenge—or device—of the digital age.
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles for massagemag.com include “Can Massage Help Combat the Opioid Epidemic?”, “Massage Therapist Appointed to NCCIH Advisory Council” and “Body Image: Massage Creates Healthy Self-Connection.”