November 16th, 2009

Researcher: Youth Texting Could Lead To Overuse Injuries

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An astounded father reported to UPI and other news outlets recently that his 13-year-old daughter had sent and received 14,528 text messages in the previous month. The phone bill documented the feat. And every few weeks there is a new assault on the Guinness Record for fast texting. Epidemiologist and ergonomist Judith Gold, ScD, tells us, in so many words, to hold the applause. An assistant professor of Epidemiology at the College of Health Professions and Social Work at Temple University, she explains that young adults who spend enough time to acquire such dexterity might be laying ground for overuse injuries.

The warning from Dr. Gold, who directs the Ergonomics and Work Physiology Laboratory in the college and whose primary focus is work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), could fall on deaf ears: She notes that individuals aged 18-21 prefer texting over e-mail or phone calls.

The reasons are easy to explain. Texting appears to be the easiest way to stay connected for a generation that attaches great value to connectedness. And it’s relatively inexpensive. According to UPI, the 13-year-old’s 14,528 text messages generated only an extra $5 over the family’s unlimited calling plan.

At this year’s annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Gold presented research on college students that indicated the more they texted, the more pain they had in their neck and shoulders. "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," said the professor in the university’s recent  news release about her  findings. "The way the body is positioned for texting – stationary shoulders and back with rapidly moving fingers – is similar to the position for typing on a computer."

Text messaging is a fairly new technology, she said, so this is a new area of research among ergonomists. "But given the similarities in body position, findings from research on overuse injuries from computers could be applicable here," she said.

Current studies on computer use show office workers are prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, and tendonitis. The professor and her team use tools like infrared cameras, motion analysis and heart rate monitors to study the body’s position in several job-related simulations. Because of the prevalence of text messaging among young adults, the professor wants to delve further into the physiological effects of this latest form of communication.

"Looking around our campus, you see every student on their cell phones, typing away," she said. "It’s the age group that texts the most, so it’s important to know what the health effects may be to learn whether it will cause long term damage."

Source: Temple University; UPI
 



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