WHEELING- Young people today have traded textbooks for tablets and landlines for smart phones. Relying on smart screens and mobile technology provides users more interactivity on-the-go, but it can also cause a range of health concerns.
One perhaps less-mentioned concern is texting thumb, a repetitive stress injury often associated with frequent texting.
According to Suzanne Holsen, certified hand therapist and director of The Hand Center at Wheeling Hospital, the syndrome's name has changed over the years - "Nintendo thumb" is another reference - but its symptoms have "been around for a long time."
Suzanne Holsen adjusts a cast on a patient. Texting can cause thumb problems, including thumb tendonitis. Holsen, a certified hand therapist, is director of Wheeling Hospital’s Hand Therapy Center.
Texting thumb takes effect "whenever tendons or muscles repeat the same motion with not enough rest," Holsen said.
Holsen specifically cited the unnatural wrist posture used during texting as a strain on tendons. Developing pain at the base of the wrist is an acute problem. Individuals can monitor their tech time by taking preventive measures to deter the development of a chronic condition.
"Speech-to-text is a great technology that helps," said Holsen.
She also suggested talking on the phone for longer conversations, something that may seem obvious but is often ignored.
The emphasis on preventive measures brings into question time spent with technology.
"I don't think we really grasp how omnipresent (technology is) in children and teenagers' lives," said Dr. Judy Romano, director of Wheeling Hospital's Center for Pediatrics.
Romano believes young people's social and emotional development is just as important of an issue as physical health when determining technology's effects.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young people now spend more time with mobile technology than they do in school. Teens spend more than 11 hours per day with their devices, AAP noted.
The shift makes inappropriate use of texting and other online interactions, such as bullying, easier because it's not face-to-face, said Romano.
"It changes the social context of the ways teens communicate with each other," Romano said.
She encourages parents to set rules and monitor their children's use of technology.
Not all technology is detrimental, however. Romano credits that used for educational purposes as a good example of technological advances.
What are the long-term health effects for children raised with constant stimulation from technology?
Doctors "are not sure. We've never had a generation plugged in like this before," Romano said. "Any behavior engaged in during growth periods has the potential to affect their outcome in either a positive or negative way. Time's going to tell what's going to happen."