Friday, December 18, 2009

Texting A Real Pain in the Neck (and Shoulders)

Telephone text messaging, or texting, is preferred over talking by many younger persons these days. However, a new study suggests that many of them are developing serious neck and/or shoulder pain as a result.

Researchers from Pennsylvania presented evidence at this year’s meeting of the American Public Health Association showing that the more young persons texted, the more pain they reported in their necks and shoulders. Lead researcher Judith Gold, ScD — assistant professor of epidemiology at Temple University’s College of Health Professions and Social Work — said in a news release that most people aged 18 to 21 prefer texting rather than email or phone calls, possibly putting the younger generation at increased risk for overuse injuries that have plagued office workers spending hours tapping away on computer keys.

Gold and colleagues examined correlations between the number of text messages sent per day and upper body pain in a sample of 138 college students; 58% female, mean 21 +/- 5 years of age. The subjects used body maps to indicate areas of discomfort and were asked how many text messages they sent per day. More than half (55%) of the participants complained of upper extremity and back pains overall, and there was an association between shoulder and neck discomfort and the number of daily text messages. Interestingly, while age did not make a difference, males were affected to a significantly greater extent than females.

Commentary: The researchers could not account for why texting would cause pain in the neck and shoulders rather than the arms, wrists, or hands, or why males are at such greater risk. Gold only observes, “What we’ve seen so far is very similar to what we see with office workers who’ve spent most of their time at a computer. The way the body is positioned for texting — stationary shoulders and back with rapidly moving fingers — is similar to the position for typing at a computer.” However, our own prior ergonomics research found that when it comes to cumulative trauma disorders associated with computer keyboards women have been more commonly at greatest risk than men. For now, the important clinical practice pointer seems to be that when diagnosing a young patient complaining of persistent neck and/or shoulder pain it could be worthwhile to inquire about their phone texting habits.

Reference: Gold JE, Kandadai V, Hanlon A. Text messaging and upper extremity symptoms in college students. Proceedings from the American Public Health Association 137th Annual Meeting & Expo; November 7-11, 2009; Philadelphia, PA. Abstract 201105 [available here].