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HindustanTimes Mon,21 Apr 2014

Avoiding a text neck

Rhythma Kaul   March 23, 2013
First Published: 22:07 IST(23/3/2013) | Last Updated: 01:34 IST(24/3/2013)

Priyal Ahuja is three years old and has her very own iPad to keep her entertained when her parents are away at work. Her parents are more than happy to see her using a gadget that not only acts as a learning tool for her - it plays all her favourite rhymes and songs - but also keeps her occupied while they are busy working, both at home and away.

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People, especially children, bent over their smartphones, tablets and handheld consoles as they text, tweet, google and play. This has led to a dramatic rise in neck pain, back sprain and spasm, and other postural problems in children by the time they hit their teens, say doctors.

Leaning your head forward and down while looking at a phone or other mobile device can cause a 'text neck'. "I get children as young as 14 with complaints of neck and back pain, which just a few years ago struck people well into their 30s and 40s who had desk jobs," says Dr Bipin Walia, director, department of neurosurgery, Max Healthcare.

"More than desktops, cell phones and laptops are the cause for this development. These are categorised as postural deformities that can become serious, if not treated in time," added Dr Walia, who sees at least five young children in a week.

In most cases, people get so focused on their handhelds that they lose track of time and end up holding their neck and upper back in abnormal positions for long periods. Holding your head down stresses the neck and upper back muscles, causing fatigue, muscle spasm and headaches.

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Holding a phone between the head and the shoulder for even 2-3 minutes can cause severe sprain in the neck. Over time, back problems can lead to slip disc, splitting or rupture of spinal discs in people as young as 18, says Dr Walia.

Pain in the hand or wrists, numbness in the second and third finger and weak grip are some of the symptoms of the syndrome.  "Young people cannot have arthritis, so the pain is primarily due to weakness in muscles. Vitamin D deficiency is another problem as fiddling with gadgets all the time means staying indoors and not getting enough sun exposure," said Dr Hemant Sharma, senior consultant orthopaedician, Fortis Memorial Research Institute. 

Doctors say at least 30% of your body should be exposed for 30 minutes daily to sunlight, preferably in the morning to avoid sun burn and to meet your daily requirement of Vitamin D.  "Some studies have suggested that the electromagnetic radiation from gadgets can also weaken the immune system, especially in young people," said Dr Sharma. 

However, 95% of the people with neck, back and wrist problems do not require surgery and can be treated with a set of specific exercises, physiotherapy and medication that includes muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The trouble with gadget abuse is not just physical, it is turning into a sort of addiction among children.

"There is a new category being proposed in the next category of classification for psychiatry disorders, especially among young people, which is labeled as internet addiction. It is enough to highlight the severity of the problem," said Dr Rajesh Sagar, additional professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Children these days sleep with their cell phones under their pillow, with all their attention towards texts and updates, resulting in disturbed sleep pattern.

"Counselling plays a crucial role, and parents and teachers are the best ones to counsel children. We need to distract them gradually and wean them off the addiction," added Dr Sagar.


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