University of Hong Kong students hand out smart advice to phone addicts

They warn that people may be on their mobiles too often and developing smartphone overuse syndrome

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 10:52pm

Imagine you are holding a bottle of water in each hand. Raise your arms into a straight line parallel to the ground. Hold the pose and then turn your wrists as if you are turning the bottles upside down. If you feel tension or pain along your shoulders and upper arms, you might be suffering from what is known as smartphone overuse syndrome.

This was one of the tips to identify the syndrome given by nine University of Hong Kong medical students to pedestrians in Causeway Bay on Tuesday afternoon.

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The students, who set up a booth on Great George Street, also taught interested passers-by the correct posture in using a smartphone and simple exercises to relieve overuse syndrome.

“The syndrome doesn’t come only with age, it also affects more and more young people,” said Ricky Lau Hok-chun, who is in his fourth year at the university’s medical school. “We believe there is an urgent need to raise awareness about the problem.”

Lau cited a previous study, which found that 70 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of children and teenagers suffered smartphone-related problems in their musculoskeletal system, including joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons and structures that support the neck, back and limbs.

Common syndromes include De Quervain’s Disease, which causes pain and swelling between the thumb and wrist and can limit the movement of the thumb; trigger finger, which can result in difficulty flexing or extending a finger and pain between the palm and finger joint; and impingement syndrome, which causes shoulder pain and limits the ability to raise the shoulders.

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These problems can be caused by using just one hand to operate a smartphone, repeatedly using the thumb and bending the neck forward to look at the phone for a long time.

Toby Ng Hou-in, 16, said he would often watch drama series on his phone during holidays, sometimes from 10pm to 6am, and play games on the phone for two to three hours. He said he would develop pain in his thumb and neck.

“Sometimes my neck was especially painful and I could almost hear it cracking when I moved it,” Ng said. “I found the tips and exercises very useful. And I will definitely reduce my time on the phone as much as possible.”

How can you identify smartphone overuse syndrome?

In addition to the exercise outlined at the start of this story, place your thumb in the palm and hold it with the other fingers. Do it with both hands and hold the pose, raise your arms forward until they are parallel to the ground and press your fists down as far as possible. If you feel increasing pain which disappears as soon as you release your thumb, you might have the syndrome.

What can you do?

• Reduce the amount of time you spend on your smartphone

• Change your habit of using your phone with just one hand. Try to use one hand to hold the phone while operating it with the fingers of the other hand

• Instead of bending the neck down to look at the phone, try to raise the phone to give your neck a rest

• Exercise by stretching your fingers, palms, arms and neck

• Consult your doctor for more professional advice