In 2014, a prestigious medical journal declared that ‘WhatsAppitis’ is a credible disease after a woman with ‘bilateral wrist pain’ induced by overuse of the messaging app was diagnosed. After admitting the woman for observation, it became clear that she had spent a six solid hours responding to messages on WhatsApp. The treatment consisted of complete abstinence from using the phone to send messages.
WhatsApp is not the only new technology causing modern injuries. In 1990, ‘Nintendinitis’ was first diagnosed, followed by the so-called ‘Nintendo Neck’ in 1991, the ‘Playstation Thumb’ in 2004 and ‘Wiiitis’ in 2009. So the potential health impact on people who overuse these new technology gadgets is definitely something to be concerned about.
Swiping, scrolling or typing for more than three hours a day
It so happens that on the day I was writing this piece, the mobile messaging service WhatsApp published an article announcing more than one billion monthly active users, up from over 700 million in January 2015. And the app’s popularity is still growing. So it certainly seems that new disorders like the ones described above are here to stay. But what exactly causes them?
Many modern injuries are caused by repetitive movements which place greater strain on our bodies. This is also true for ‘WhatsAppitis’. Before WhatsApp came out, we used to send one, perhaps two, texts a day. Now, each WhatsApp user sends about 43 messages a day. On average, we spend a total of three hours and 16 minutes a day on our smartphones! Most people hold their phone in both hands and use one or both thumbs to type. This means our thumbs are making repetitive movements for more than three hours a day. No wonder our thumb muscles get overstrained! Apparently, one man even tore a tendon in his thumb after playing a game on his smartphone for hours on end every day…
In addition to pain in the hands and wrists, excessive use of WhatsApp can also cause neck and back complaints. The term ‘text neck’ has already been coined to describe the posture we adopt as we stare at our phones. In 2014, American researchers published an article linking WhatsApp to increased stress on the neck and back. As we angle our heads down to look at our phones, the effective weight on our spinal column increases – at a 60-degree angle to about 27 kilos! With all the extra weight, it’s no wonder our backs and necks start to hurt.
WhatsApp in the medical sector
Now WhatsApp is not only bad news. A great deal of research is being done into how WhatsApp can be used in the medical sector, such as in hospitals. For example, WhatsApp appears to be an effective and safe communication tool in emergency rooms. And WhatsApp can also be used as a diagnostic tool for viewing CT scans and X-rays.
Texting while walking? Think twice!
Like everything else that could be bad for you, WhatsApp is harmless… if used in moderation. However, the next time you set out on your walk down the street, beware of the dangers to you as well as others as you text your friends. Watch your steps carefully because you could face the prospects of potential serious injury and harm. In Sweden, signs were put up (see picture on the right) warning drivers that they may encounter pedestrians who are deeply absorbed in their smartphones. The signs weren’t put up by the Swedish government, as was initially assumed, but are the work of two artists.