While military action is causing a boom of text messages, with everyone from the BBC, AOL and even the U.S. military turning to handheld technology to transfer information, receive feedback and even clarify radio messages, the price of this portable convenience, warns the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), could come in the form of potential pain or even a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
The problem comes from those not-so-ergonomic little keys. According to a March 2003 press statement from BCA spokesperson Tim Hutchful, regular use of text messaging over a long period of time “could cause repetitive strain which may cause both short and long term injuries. As mobile phone technology develops, mobiles are getting smaller, with buttons closer together. Small, fine movements tend to aggravate more than larger movements — this coupled with the smaller buttons can lead to injury as smaller buttons are harder to activate.”
And it’s not just the buttons that are to blame. According to Hutchful, it’s the overall device design, too. “When you are text messaging, you tend to hold your shoulders and upper arms tense. This cuts down the circulation to the forearm, when in fact it needs a greater than normal blood flow to achieve the fine movements of the thumbs and fingers,” said Hutchful.
While the U. S. has been slower to adopt the technology, with only about 176 million text messages being sent in this country during 2002, the BCA estimates that in the U. K. alone, over 1.65 billion text messages were sent in January, 2003. Communication and technology providers in both countries expect those numbers to continue to increase.
A 2001 study by Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE) concentrating on teen users, some of the first to embrace text messaging, showed that 63 percent of teen text message senders used the technology even when a land line was available; 33 percent of those teens stated they opted for text messaging because of the speed, while others liked the privacy it afforded them and the ability to send messages secretly, even under little light. And while the potential for MSDs weren’t addressed by the teens, they did have concerns about the messages themselves, ranging from an inability to understand the abbreviated text messaging language, the lack of emotion offered by the electronic medium, and the potential for inadvertently sending the message to the wrong recipient.
While the BCA doesn’t offer any suggestions on how to better understand the abbreviated messages, it does offer a few recommendations to ease the potential pain of text messaging including supporting the arm that holds the device, massaging the arm from the wrist to elbow at regular intervals, swapping hands regularly, and sitting in a neutral position.
Sources: British Chiropractic Association; Xerox