How Your Smartphone Addiction May Be Causing Physical Harm – Analysis


Global mobile phone evolution is beginning to have an important physical impact on the human body. Neck and hand physiology and technical devices such as smartphones become more available with differing and changing features. Regardless of how mobile phones change over time, it seems that the devices are creating musculoskeletal disorders from extensive smartphone use that are occurring at a more rapid rate.

Smartphone use is global, and there is a focus on “addictive” habits. Mobile phone user rate from 2016 to 2020 increased from 3.6 to 6.5 billion, almost one third of the world’s population, and has become one of the major global health challenges of the 21st century. Iran is the world’s 12th-highest smartphone user with over 52 million in 2021, a 25-fold increase on the two million users in 2013. Those numbers are continuing to grow as more mobile users come of age as early as 3 to 4 years old.

There are dramatic physical effects of cellphone use if one is “addicted” to them. Addiction is another problem where endless use of mobile phones is creating more physical damage to the neck, arms and hands, in some people, and many in the youth. The difference between a 60-year-old and a 25-year-old using a smartphone may be minimal when it comes to physical damage. Due to the high prevalence of neck and hand pain in smartphone users, evaluation of these variables and assessment of their correlation with the level of addiction should provide new information about the probable risk factors.

This phenomenon is present all over the world, and whether there is an addiction or not to cell phone use, the outcomes are basically the same around the world. A study from Malaysia showed the most common activities in which the participants reported discomfort when engaging with their smartphones were social network usage, followed by talking on the phone, web surfing, photography, email usage, and games, an interesting order of priorities in itself. Other studies from Iran and India showed much the same results.

Medical professionals are looking at frequent smartphone use in a pathological way that forces the user to adopt a compromised posture. This gradually results in changes to both the postural and musculoskeletal systems. A shortened version of the Smartphone Addiction Scale Questionnaires was used to help factor in analytical findings. Studies around the world – India, Malaysia, Hong Kong — show mostly the same results.

The COVID pandemic of the early 2020s was a major factor in growing reporting of a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders, especially in the thumb and wrist. The prevalence of musculoskeletal pain such as stiff neck, brachial neuralgia, dorsal kyphotic posture, and head pain is now increasing among adolescents in public schools.

The impact of physical issues from using smartphones on youth is growing globally. Surveys in several different countries, again mostly in Southeast Asia and India, showed that about 94 percent of all participants who were university students were using computers and phones, and 44 percent of the respondents were using them every day for more than five years. About 60.7 percent always have neck pain and 39.3 percent sometimes have neck pain. All had grown up with mobile phone technology. These studies show that constant use of electronic devices such as mobile phones causes significant musculoskeletal problems, specifically in the head and neck region.

Scientists have come up with the term “text neck,” which is repetitive strain injury and pain due to excessive viewing and texting on a handheld device for prolonged periods of time. Long-term untreated text neck results in inflammation of ligaments, muscles and nerves of the body, which can lead to Permanent Arthritic Changes, a term that should enter the lexicon. Many smartphone users experience thumb/wrist pain, but some people who develop pain are smart phone addicts. Previous studies have shown that the use of electronic devices by frequent movements of the thumb result in increased stress on the thumb and thus result in musculoskeletal disorders.

Failure to handle or correct text neck in a timely manner can cause serious permanent damage and lead to overuse syndrome or repetitive stress injury. If text neck is left untreated for a long duration, it can lead to inflammation of the ligaments, muscles and nerves of the neck, resulting in permanent arthritic changes, meaning constant hand pain.

Overall, the mobile phone evolution brings with it a new way of communicating and conducting one’s life. There is no such idea as “evolution of hand dexterity,” so there must be a quickening toward the next step of 100 percent hands-free devices as physical issues become more debilitating, especially in 20 years whenthe current youth generation has grown older.

The impact on work and life in general is clear. But what is also clear is that the impact on younger people, especially after the pandemic, may have long term health costs. There is a policy requirement to jump to the next level of hands-free technology quicker. Perhaps there needs to be an extra push in the fourth industrial communication revolution for a zero rate of text neck cases in the near term.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute in Washington, D.C. He is a former Advisor and Director of Research for a number of UAE institutions. Dr. Karasik was a Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government, Middlesex University Dubai, and the University of Wollongong Dubai where he taught “Labor and Migration” and “Global Political Economy” at the graduate level. Dr. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002-2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. Throughout Dr. Karasik’s career, he has worked for numerous U.S. agencies involved in researching and analyzing defense acquisition, the use of military power, and religio-political issues across the Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia, including the evolution of violent extremism. Dr. Karasik lived in the UAE for 10 years and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Dr. Karasik received his PhD in History from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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