Modern Pains | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:05 PM, October 23, 2016

Modern Pains

While cracking my spine as casually as a game of 'bursting the bubble wrap', my physiotherapist tells me that the future looks really bright for members of his profession. Intrigued, I ask why. “Oh, because nobody looks up anymore, everyone is busy looking down into their cell phones,” he says wryly, “so the more people use their mobile phones the more neck problems they will have and who do you think they will go to? Us, of course!” He grins and tells me to do my neck exercises – a series of rather unflattering moves involving bringing my chin towards my chest, exaggerating my (ahem, 'slight') double chin till I resemble an oversized turkey. He even has the audacity to say 'very good' at the end of it, completely oblivious of my mortification. This bizarre exercise he expects me to do at least five to six times daily – even while at work where our glass cubicles make sure that one's every move is visible from multiple angles. Yippee yay, I think to myself but also cannot help but think of the ominous message in his remarks.

Yes, technology is making everything faster, more accessible, more efficient, more connected. But it is also killing our backs and necks. If you think of the hours people, especially youngsters, spend bent over their cell phones or glued to their laptops, desktops, i-Pads and other seductive gadgets, and match this with what my rather blunt physiotherapist says, you know that there is trouble ahead. In 2008, Dr Dean Fisherman, an American chiropractic physician coined the term 'text neck', after he discovered why a 17-year-old patient was having severe neck and shoulder pain. It was because he was constantly looking down into his phone which immediately caused his neck muscles to strain. According to the docs, the more you bend your head the heavier your head becomes – it can be as heavy as a four-year-old being balanced on your delicate neck. But it's not just our kids who are ruining their spinal cords – we are doing pretty well in the business of back breaking too. Think of the number of times you look down when your bestie sends a highly inappropriate joke on Viber during a meeting, or when you are stuck in traffic and go about checking emails, FB updates, playing Candy Crush or catching up on the news. It may mean at least one hour of non-stop bending of the neck.

The recent Pokemon Go craze that seems to be sweeping the world may result in millions of necks bent for hours on end, resulting in millions of neck problems and millions for all the physios who will be busy fixing them.

But why blame only the smart phones? Most professionals spend hours on end at their desktops, forgetting the mandatory 'getting up every thirty minutes' rule and ending up with lower back pain, Carpel Tunnel syndrome, shoulder and neck stiffness, not to mention the complimentary headache to go with all that. And then what do we do when we go home? Open the laptop to watch the latest jaw dropping remark of the Great Donald or rush to check out some bizarre cat video someone posted on Facebook which you kind of saw a little bit on your way home while tilting your head 45 degrees to look at your smartphone.

The misery of continuous pain is of course inevitable. Not only will you feel like you are playing some morbid, masochistic game of 'figure out the spot which has no pain' (very, very difficult) but you will also become a pain to others. Constant pain makes you crotchety, a bit of a killjoy, any kind of social engagement seems like an ordeal and work involving sitting at the computer, tilting your head to read, an everyday drudgery, all of which will be reflected on the grouchy face your co-workers will have to put up with. It will also be risky for anyone to ask 'So how are you?', as it may open up the floodgates of self pity as you give a list of all the types of aches you have in each part of your body.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, do not despair. There may not be any permanent solution to your problems until you throw away your mobile phone or quit your job but there are ways you can at least keep the whining to a manageable level. Physiotherapists, who are nothing short of modern day angels, bless their souls, will give you tips that are boring but could actually significantly make you a more tolerable human being, even to yourself.

Here are some of the ones my knight in shining armour has given me: create resistance by pushing your head towards your hand on all four sides of the head for several times (try to do this without that frightening grimace that makes you look like a psychopath); do the 'Turkey move' explained before; cross your fingers and stretch in front like a cat and do the same at the back to stretch the shoulders; sit upright and make sure your body is at a ninety degree angle, elbows straight and supported, head directly looking at the screen; get up every twenty minutes and walk around – make excuses to pester co-workers if you must; look down at your device without bending your neck.

Of course, many of you will go to YouTube to see how this looks unless you already have. And I can add my two cents on how not to let technology ruin your health – try to disassociate with it every now and then. Look at the sky or at the street scenes when you're marooned inside a gridlock. And you young people out there, don't text your buddy sitting right next to you. Try some real face to face talking. It's pretty cool.

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