How Technology Can Hurt You

When your device is wreaking physical havoc, it might be time to reexamine some of your "can't live without it" habits.

If you've ever had a weird tingling in your thumb from texting, knots in your neck and shoulders from hunching at a laptop, or blurry vision after a day at your desk, then you already know technology can hurt you—literally.

Adults with tech-related injuries often refuse to admit they have a problem until injuries and addictive behavior reach an extreme, Nancy Ann Cheever, a professor of communications at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who studies technology and addiction, told the New York Times.

"We assume teenagers are using their phones more, but it's actually not the case, because younger people tend to have a lot more awareness of their smartphone use," she said. "They have a more complete understanding of the harmful effects of smartphone use because they've been taught about it since they were kids."

"Most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every six minutes," New York psychotherapist Nancy Colier writes in "The Power of Off." Furthermore, she added, "46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they 'couldn't live without.'"

But when your device is wreaking physical havoc, it might be time to reexamine some of your "can't live without it" habits. After all, technology should support our quality of life, not drain it.

"We are spending far too much of our time doing things that don't really matter to us," Colier writes.

One thing that certainly matters is healthy so we can live our lives. Here, some tech pitfalls not to fall prey to—and how to cure them.

The Problem: Numb Thumb and Text Claw

Any repetitive motor activity — like thumb-punching and gripping your phone in your hand everywhere you go — can cause cause muscle tension and forearm or wrist pain.

The Fix:

In addition to changing your texting behavior—you might send iMessages from your laptop so you can type with your whole hand—acupuncture might help. Writing in the New York Times of her "numb thumb," Nellie Bowles also found relief in turmeric, an anti-inflammatory, and cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic extract of marijuana, more commonly known as CBD.

The problem: Lack of sleep

"Perhaps the most dramatic impact [of technology on our health] is the reduction in the amount of sleep," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said at a conference. Fifty years ago, the average adult slept eight and a half hours; now we average less than seven hours a night, he explained. One reason? The blue light from our screens disrupts our natural circadian rhythms.

The Fix:

Power down three hours before bedtime, and keep your phone out of the bedroom. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock, embrace bedtime crosswords and novels.

The Problem: Computer Vision Syndrome

The constellation of vision discomforts stemming from excessive screen time include eyestrain, blurred vision, and dry eyes. And it's not just you. Nearly 70 percent of American adults say they've experienced symptoms of digital eye strain, known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) at some point in their lives, USA Today reported.

The Fix:

WebMD suggests changing the lighting in your workspace to reduce the glare, by moving your monitor away from sunny windows, utilizing a desk lamp that casts light evenly, or asking your employer to install a dimmer switch. Get your ergonomic set-up right by positioning your monitor slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face. And remember to give your eyes a rest by looking away! Ideally, we'd all follow the 20-20-20 rule, looking away from the screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Blink often, and if your eyes feel dry, use eye drops.

The problem: Tension headaches

Too much screen time can lead to another form of digital eye strain: tension headaches. Reading dark text on a bright screen can lead to muscle spasms at the temples, reports the Huffington Post.

The Fix:

Adjust the contrast and brightness on your screen and try a mini-massage at the temples and around your eyes to combat fatigue and strain.

The Problem: Hearing loss

Pumping up the volume on your earbuds so you can hear Terry Gross over the roar of the subway can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). A study published in the Journal of American Medicine in 2010 reported that 20 percent of American adolescents aged 12 to 19 suffered from hearing loss, a 30% increase from numbers reported in 1988-1994. Experts attribute at least some of the rise to earbud use. And once they're damaged, the sensitive hair cells in your ear never grow back.

The Fix:

Turn down the volume. If people around you can hear the music from your earbuds or headphones, it's loud enough to cause damage to your ears. According to an article from Stony Brook University School of Medicine, just one hour a day of listening to your earbuds could cause permanent damage; try alternating reading with listening on your commute.

The Problem: Neck Strain

These days, we're always looking down and hanging our heads: at our laptops and into our phones as we text. But this posture puts strain on the neck, which now has to support the weight of your head all on its own.

The Fix:

If you work on a laptop, place it on a stand that raises it to just below eye level; use this in conjunction with an external keyboard. Use a lower back support in your work chair to encourage good posture posture. Remember to take short breaks for shoulder rolls and neck stretches, since many of us hunch up our shoulders while we're working without even realizing it. Soothe sore muscles in the neck with ice and heat.

The Problem: Sitting Too much

More screen time means more sitting time, and a recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology from the American Cancer Society found a link between long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes. In other words, sit more, die sooner. It doesn't matter if you run for half-an-hour after clocking out. No matter how much you exercise, studies have found, sitting for excessively long periods of time is a risk factor for early death.

The Fix:

Take movement breaks every 30 minutes, CNN reports. No excuses. "Our findings suggest this one behavior change could reduce your risk of death," said Keith Diaz, an associate research scientist in the Columbia University Department of Medicine.

The Takeaway

Like any tool, technology can be destructive if used incorrectly. Don't let tech's ability to help you earn a living from the comfort of your desk affect your health and longevity. Look away, get up, put the phone down—and maybe even go outside and smell the roses.