It is common nowadays to see people of all ages walking along the street with their eyes glued to their smartphones or tablet computers and their fingers dancing across the touch screens, checking e-mail, playing games or chatting — a fast-growing phenomenon dubbed the “heads-down tribe” by local media.
According to the Department of Health’s Pingtung Hospital, people’s tendency to hunch over their electronic devices for long periods of time has caused a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in prescriptions for rehabilitation treatment, while cervical intervertebral disc protrusion has increased among people between the ages of 20 and 30.
Sore muscles around the shoulder and neck are common in the modern generation — with an astonishing one out of every two people experiencing discomfort — and the main cause of the condition is long hours of hunching over cellphones and tablet computers, the hospital said.
It added that working conditions where employees have to spend long hours staring at a computer were another reason for shoulder and neck problems.
Hunching causes the muscles in the neck and upper back to become stiff from over-use, and as a result the shoulders and neck feel stiff and sore, the hospital said.
Lee Chih-ming (李志明), head of the hospital’s rehabilitation medicine division, said that the increase in younger patients at the division has been alarming.
He called for patients experiencing a stiff, sore neck and back to get into the habit of lifting their head and turning it from side to side every 30 minutes.
Gently rolling the neck can also alleviate some of the discomfort caused by hunching over phones for long periods of time, he said.
Chou Yu-sen (周毓森), a doctor in the general surgery division, added that stiffness of the shoulders or neck, with additional soreness, numbness or pain in the arms, is a signal that the cervical nerves are being pinched.
A visit to the doctor is necessary if these symptoms are experienced, Chou said, adding that if the symptoms continue and worsen, the condition could lead to protrusion of the cervical intervertebral disc.
Although the symptoms usually occur in adults over the age of 40, the increase in younger patients at the rehabilitation medicine division means that the possibility of the condition occurring in younger people cannot be excluded, Chou said.
However, the condition can be cured by surgery, such as performing a traditional iliac crest graft or fusing artificial bone made from resin with the mobile cervical intervertebral disc, he said.
Chou added that surgery could be avoided if people stick to the habit of letting their neck and shoulder muscles relax every 30 minutes.