New Illnesses and Injuries Arise from Contemporary Living

Rather than being a sign of aging, certain aches and pains are in fact a sign of the age in which we live — for instance, bunions, hammertoes and aching feet came into awareness as women began wearing high heels for longer hours. The list of modern-day maladies continues to grow, especially those with high-tech causes — doctors now are diagnosing cell-phone elbow, Blackberry thumb and Guitar Hero wrist, among others.

I spoke with Leon Benson, MD, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, to find out what he sees in the way of such modern maladies in his practice. He told me that there’s nothing inherently wrong with modern technology in and of itself — it’s how we use it (or more to the point, how we overuse or misuse it) that’s the problem.


Have you noticed that your pinkie and ring fingers go numb and tingly when you’ve been on your cell phone a long while? You may have cell-phone elbow, the proper medical name for which is ulner nerve neuropraxia. It’s caused by holding your elbow bent for long stretches of time. This irritates a nerve in the elbow, the ulnar nerve, which extends into the fingers of the hand, Dr. Benson explains. It can also be caused by spending long hours at your keyboard, if your elbows are bent at more than a 90-degree angle.

The Fix:

The first and most obvious solution, says Dr. Benson, is to curb your use of all phones, because landlines require bent elbows, too. Other strategies that may be helpful…

  • Switch hands. If you have to talk for a while, make it a point to switch the phone from hand to hand.
  • Use a hands-free headset.
  • At the computer, make sure your elbows are not bent at more than a 90-degree angle.


Multiple text messages mean multiple repetitive thumb motions, which can cause stiff and achy thumbs — leading to a newly common repetitive stress injury known as Blackberry thumb, a form of tendonitis. Repetitive use also may aggravate any underlying arthritis.

The Fix:

Moderation is the key, says Dr. Benson. Avoid excessive use of handheld devices, most especially if you feel stiffening or soreness in your thumb. Another helpful strategy suggested by Daily Health News contributing medical editor Andrew Rubman, ND, is to soak the afflicted joint in warm water with added Epsom salts, while stretching your fingers. Hold the stretch for five seconds… then curl fingers into a fist and hold that for five seconds… then relax for five seconds. Repeat this a few times over a five-minute soak.


The phenomenon known as “Guitar Hero wrist” was first called to the attention of the public at an awkward moment: Detroit Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya was sidelined for three games for wrist and forearm inflammation after playing too many games of Guitar Hero. And Dr. Benson told me he regularly sees weekend Wii-warriors — people who overdo it with their new toys, spending long hours playing virtual versions of tennis, golf and baseball. These, too, are repetitive stress injuries typically diagnosed as tendonitis of the shoulder, wrist, elbow or knees (depending on the type of sports equipment you’re pretending to swing). And then there also are the lacerations, black eyes and bumps and bruises that result from overenthusiastic participation. Dr. Benson also noted that since the Wii controller is quite small and light, many participants “overswing” their arms when simulating the sport activity, because the real weight of a tennis racket, golf club or baseball bat isn’t there. As a result, this enthusiastic motion often causes injury, either when the participant strikes an object (e.g., coffee table) nearby or overstretches a shoulder or elbow from too much follow-through.

The Fix:

Once again, it’s a matter of common sense. Read the instructions, use the equipment as directed and don’t overdo — it’s the same advice you get when you play sports in the real world.


Identifying hazards is an important part of managing safety in the home, but few people think of their computers as a possible source of trouble. That needs to change, say researchers in the July 2009 issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine. In an analysis of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, a team of Ohio researchers found that people experienced 9,279 computer-related injuries (cuts, bruises, sprains and fractures) in 2006, up from 1,267 in 1994. Not coincidentally, computer ownership increased by 309% from 1993 to 2003.

The Fix:

As with most accidental injuries, the majority of these mishaps can be prevented by making the effort to focus on setting up a safer environment. Examine your workstation, and take steps to make it safer, including setting computer equipment closer to the center of the desktop, away from the edge. If they’re not on the floor, anchor heavy components, such as CPUs, against a wall. Secure electrical cords, tucking them safely out of the way using clips, clamps, adhesive or wraps. Make sure you have a clear path whenever you move your computer. More than half of injuries occur when people relocate computers.


The new must-have home-entertainment technology is the flat-screen television, which is creating a new danger as these heavy devices have been known to detach from the wall or tumble off their holders, injuring people of all ages and sometimes even killing children.

The Fix:

This one is pure common sense — make sure your flat-screen TV is properly installed, using brackets and following the manufacturer’s instructions. Position the television so that it’s not likely to be jostled or bumped into regularly.


Just because these particular injuries are ultra-contemporary in nature doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from old-fashioned natural remedies. Dr. Rubman suggests that nonpharmaceutical techniques (such as alternating hot and cold applications, also called contrast bath therapy and/or topical applications of either icy-hot preparations containing capsaicin and menthol, or specialized penetrating botanical formulae such as Deep ‘91 by Intensive Nutrition Inc. in California) may provide some external relief. Also, he adds, there are many anti-inflammatory combinations involving substances such as fish oil, bromelain, papain, willow bark extract, serratiopeptidase, and a myriad of antioxidant vitamins, minerals and co-factors that can be helpful.

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