Checking myself into the hospital with stabbing chest pain was not something I expected to be doing at 26.
A self-confessed hypochondriac, I had little doubt that I was one of those rare, abnormally young and female cardiac arrest victims. As always, however, my panic was quickly averted.
After the both necessary and awkward chest examination, the doctor asked me if I happened to spend a lot of time on a computer. That I could not deny – the majority of my daytime hours were spent tapping away on my keyboard, working in a less than stellar office which entailed me sinking into a decrepit couch while hunched over my laptop. The doctor explained that I almost certainly had a case of acute costochondritis, defined as “an inflammation of the cartilage (ie. the costochondral joints) that attach the front of the ribs to the breast bone.” In other words, continuously poor posture had led to my ribcage impetuously crushing its own protective walls. He went on to say that although the ailment can be caused by numerous factors, overuse of computers combined with bad posture was rapidly becoming a major contributor.
With the correct course of anti-inflammatories my apparent heart attack diminished over time, but it left me wondering what other unexpected maladies my tech-obsessed generation may be putting themselves at risk of.
Remember Blackberry thumb?
Though we’ve since largely converted to iPhones and Samsungs, the problem has unfortunately made the switch with us. The neologism – also known as Nintenonitis, iPhone thumb or just plain smartphone thumb – was coined shortly after the advent of the smartphone and refers to a form of repetitive strain injury obtained from overusing the thumb. Sadly, the problem isn’t nearly as amusing as its many names.
Children as young as seven are now known to suffer such reoccurring injuries from extended use of mobile phones and games consoles. But it’s not just our thumbs we have to worry about. Dr Thomas Bunting has been a chiropractor for five years and says that 60 to 70 per cent of his patient base has postural injuries directly related to sitting, desk work and other sedentary jobs. “Of these injuries”, he says, “it would be fair to assume that the primary cause is computers.
“The way we are designed by evolution is to stand up, walk or run during daylight hours. Now, we wake up, move around a little bit, basically to jump in the shower, then we sit down in a chair and hold that position for up to nine or ten hours… so it’s almost de-evolutionising our race. That’s why we call these habits degenerative patterns.”
Dr Bunting told The Newsroom that the key to avoiding postural injuries is to get moving and stay moving. “It’s all about trying to break up the sedentary pattern as often as you can. I advise my patients to stand up from their chair every 20 minutes, walk around it and sit back down. Dynamic movement and certain exercises such as yoga, can also build strength and in turn the ability to deal with these unnatural positions.”
The dangers of texting and… most things
By this point we’re all well aware of the perils of using a phone while driving, but recent studies have begun to highlight the dangers of walking and texting. In March, the University at Buffalo released details of a study they claim indicates that more injuries occur per mile from distracted walking than they do from distracted driving. Accidents could involve anything from bumping into other pedestrians to walking into traffic. So, although injuries that result from using phones while driving may be more serious, physical harm caused by walking and texting occurs much more frequently. Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo, has seen first-hand in his practice, the steady incline of mobile phone related injuries, coinciding, of course, with the rise in smartphones. He believes that as many as 10 per cent of pedestrian visits to emergency rooms involve the use of mobile phones. A related study at Stony Brook University states that 61 per cent of people texting and walking will veer off their intended course.
Aside from the aforementioned mishaps that can occur from handling your phone and walking, doctors are also concerned with the postural issues that may arise. Similar to the overuse of computers, the rigid position adopted by your neck and upper back is completely unnatural and thus “wexters” may find themselves in just as much discomfort as long-haul computer users.
Does WiFi cause cancer?
This is one that is constantly up for debate, but recent statistics have indicated that radiofrequency waves emitted by wireless technology are in fact harmful to our health and possibly more so to still-developing children’s brains. In April of this year The BioInitiative Report – an ongoing study compiled by 29 scientists outlining the possible health risks from wireless technology – said evidence for health issues arising from wireless technology is “growing stronger and warrants immediate action.” Hundreds of studies between 2012 and 2014 were analysed by the report and the results were no short of alarming. The BioInitiative Report found nervous system effects were experienced in more than two-thirds of studies on radiofrequency radiation, while DNA damage from radiofrequency radiation was reported in 65 per cent of recent studies.
One scientist who contributed to the report, Lennart Hardell, PhD, stated that there was a “consistent pattern of increased risk for glioma [brain tumour] and acoustic neuroma [nerve tumour] with use of mobile and cordless phones.” He goes on to say that “evidence shows that radiofrequency should be classified as a known human carcinogen… and public safety limits are not adequate to protect public health.”
Although the BioInitiative Report has been refuted by other independent reports, such as that by the Journal of Epidemiology, their findings should not be taken lightly. Just months ago two Canadian scientists came forth to dispute another recent report that claimed radiofrequency waves were not hazardous, both independently suggesting the report did not give enough weight to the links between wireless signals and cancer. One of these scientists, Dr Anthony Miller, says we must “exercise extreme caution when it comes to exposing children to radiofrequency radiation.” Cindy Sage, a co-editor of the BioInitiative Report, agrees, saying wireless classrooms are “essentially an unregulated experiment on children’s health and learning.”
The Newsroom spoke to a founding member of the BioInitiative Report, Dr David Carpenter, who is also the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at Albany University. When asked about ways to limit or eliminate radiation risks entirely, Dr Carpenter said that in this day and age it was impossible to avoid all exposure. He did, however, list a number of simple things we can all do to reduce what he believes is dangerous exposure to radiation.
“Don’t use a cell phone without a corded earpiece. If you must hold the cell phone to your ear, keep it away from your head by at least an inch. Don’t use WiFi if it can be avoided. Use a wired computer to access the internet. Don’t use a cordless phone, since this is as bad as a cell phone for RF [radiofrequency] generation… and [never] keep a cell phone on your body or sleep with it near your body.”
So, could our beloved mobile phones and laptops really be paving the road towards later-life misery and should we be minimising such risks where possible? That’s for you to decide, but I’m certainly starting to see the silver lining in my own “heart attack”. – Thea Carley