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Excessive smartphone use hurts young people’s hands, neck, upper back

Tristan Manalac
08 Jan 2021
With smartphone and tablet usage ever increasing, many question the impact it has on sleep and health

Musculoskeletal pain at the upper back, neck, and wrists/hands is more common in young people who use smartphones, and particularly so in those who are addicted to their devices, according to a new study.

“The use of smartphones has grown rapidly over the past decade. This can lead to problematic smartphone use for a minority of individuals. Excessive use of smartphones may cause various physical and psychological health problems for such individuals,” the researchers said.

A total of 249 adolescents (aged 18–25 years, 67.5 percent female) participated in the present study. The median score in the Smartphone Addiction Scale (SAS) was 77.5±23.9. Almost all participants used their smartphones to make phone calls (98.4 percent) and for social networking (96.0 percent). [Korean J Pain 2021;34:72-81]

Most of the participants had owned a smartphone for 7–9 (42.6 percent) or >9 (31.3 percent) years at the time they were surveyed. In terms of duration of use, 41.8 percent said that on a typical day, they were on their smartphones from 3–4 hours; 13.3 percent, however, reported usage exceeding 6 hours per day.

Participants also commonly reported experiencing musculoskeletal pain, as assessed by the modified Nordic Musculoskeletal Questionnaire. In the past year, for example, 70.3 percent had upper back pain, while 65.9 percent had complaints regarding the neck, and 68.7 percent regarding the wrist/hands. These three sites also most commonly experienced pain when past-week reports were considered.

Notably, upper back, neck, and hand/wrist pain disrupted normal work in 22.5 percent, 16.9 percent, and 18.5 percent of participants in the past year.

Correlation analyses revealed that SAS scores were positively and significantly associated not only with smartphone use habits, but also with musculoskeletal pain in the neck (r, 0.457; p=0.001), shoulder (r, 0.025; p=0.025), wrists/hands (r, 0.504; p=0.001), and upper back (r, 0.148; p=0.023).

Logistic regression analysis further confirmed the role that excessive smartphone use has on musculoskeletal pain.

Participants who were on their smartphones for >6 hours in a typical day were >50-percent more likely to have musculoskeletal pain in the neck (odds ratio [OR], 1.68, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.46–4.10; p=0.031). Moreover, their risks of shoulder (OR, 2.12, 95 percent CI, 0.68–5.88; p=0.02) and wrist/hand (OR, 2.55, 95 percent CI, 0.53–7.51; p=0.01) complaints were at least doubled.

Similarly, those who had owned a smartphone for >9 years saw a significantly greater likelihood of musculoskeletal pain in the wrists/hands (OR, 5.55, 95 percent CI, 0.84–12.85; p=0.001) and neck (OR, 3.94, 95 percent CI, 0.98–8.23; p=0.001).

SAS also remained a significant indicator of pain in the upper back (OR, 1.10, 95 percent CI, 0.98–1.11; p=0.033), wrists/hands (OR, 1.07, 95 percent CI, 0.97–1.09; p=0.001), and neck (OR, 1.08. 95 percent CI, 0.98–1.10; p=0.002).

“Further study needs to be carried out on a larger cohort for more generalizable results, representing the whole population,” the researchers said. “Furthermore, attention should be directed towards the safe use of technology and increasing public awareness of the hazards of excessive and potentially problematic smartphone use.”

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Most Read Articles
Stephen Padilla, 23 Nov 2020
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