The impacts of modern technology on our health

4th January 2016

In our increasingly connected society, what sort of impact is digital technology having on people's health and wellbeing? Read on to find out.

There's no doubt that technology and electronic gadgetry play an important role in today's world. According to a report from communications regulator Ofcom (March 2014), the average UK adult devotes 8 hours 41 minutes a day to media activities. By spending more than half our waking day on emailing, texting, social media and so on, are we comprising our health?

Postural problems

Hunching over laptops, tablets and phones for extended periods can result in shoulder and/or neck pain, says Professor Tony Kochhar, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in shoulder, elbow and upper limb surgery.

This is something that healthcare professionals are seeing increasingly often as smartphones, tablets and laptops continue to grow in popularity. “As such, the population of people who are susceptible to orthopaedic problems has increased,” says Tony. “In the past few years, tablets and phones have become smaller and lighter and this has to some extent reduced the risk of orthopaedic problems. However, it is still much higher than 10 years ago.”

When seeking treatment, the first port of call is generally a GP, physiotherapist or your occupational health department. “Some people need combined therapy, with a hand therapist and a physiotherapist,” explains the professor. “Their work environment also often needs to be assessed to ensure they are working in an optimal position. As far as surgery, I very rarely operate on anything related to repetitive strain. These types of injuries are most often treated without surgery but with physiotherapy, stretching and changing habits.”

If digital technology is rapidly taking over your life, remember to take a break and do some stretches. “Any type of activity when performed for extended periods of time, or on a repetitive basis, will put a strain on the body,” cautions Tony. “For example, if you are spending a lot of time on a tablet make sure you take breaks, stand up, shrug your shoulders and take a stretch. Everything in moderation!”

Hearing issues

Whether it's an mp3 player, games console, TV, tablet or Bluetooth speaker, any digital gadget producing sound above 85 decibels has the potential to damage your hearing. “The risk of damage to hearing is based on two factors: how loud and for how long,” says Nic Wray, communications manager at the British Tinnitus Association (BTA). “Most cases of deafness (around four out of every five) are caused by damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. This damage can be the result of too much noise. Noise-related hearing loss is usually irreversible as the hair cells don’t regenerate.”

When shopping for headphones, your first choice should be noise-cancelling ones, followed by the older earmuff-type, explains Nic. “These block out background noise and allow the listener to have the volume lower. Ear-bud style headphones and in-the-ear headphones are less effective at drowning out background noise. If external sounds can’t be heard with the headphones on, then the music/film/game is too loud.”

Whatever type of headphones you opt for, don't use them at very high volumes – or be tempted to use them to drown out background noise. It's also important to take regular breaks from using headphones.

Further information

You can read up on tinnitus and its causes via our Healthier You hub.

NHS Choices also has tips for protecting your hearing as does the British Tinnitus Association.

Professor Tony Kochhar's practice is based on the principle that an early, accurate diagnosis and prompt specialist treatment will lead to a faster recovery and return to work. He specialises in sports injuries, RSI (repetitive strain injury) and degenerative conditions, and is also a visiting professor of sports science at the University of Greenwich, London.

If you are a Benenden member and have concerns about your health, you can speak to a GP 24/7 using our exclusive advice line. We could also help with physiotherapy.