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Computer-Related Illness

"...As excessive computer use and stress are the most common causes of neck stiffness, one can cite them as the main culprit of ill health and poor well-being..."

by Dr. Mosaraf Ali

Computers have become an integral part of life in today's world. It is addictive too, and if you are not careful you might end up having some serious problems.
My experience in this area comes from my work with the neck for 25 years. I recently launched a book called The Neck Connection. This book is not so much about neck pain or trapped nerves in the neck, but about the vertebral arteries located deep inside the cervical vertebrae. These arteries are protected in a pair of canals because they supply blood to the most delicate and vital part of the brain, the subconscious brain.

The neck is about one-seventh the size of the spine but has seven flat vertebrae, all compacted within that space. Unlike other parts of the spine, the neck is extremely fragile and can move in all sorts of directions. That is essential because we have the sensory organs like the eyes, ears and nose. The general rule of thumb is that the more fragile or flexible a part of the spine is, the more injuries it is likely to sustain. That is because they are loosely held together to give maximum mobility in the joints without compromising on the erect posture.

Once the vertebra gets "disaligned" or shifted out of its natural position, the blood vessels (vertebral arteries) are compressed as the canals in which they are located also gets twisted. That leads to a decrease of blood flow to the brain and the consequence is poor functioning of the vital areas of the brain that causes a range of symptoms.

These symptoms include everything from chronic fatigue, headaches, dizziness, lack of concentration, anxiety, and insomnia, to poor immune system, hormonal imbalance and autoimmune diseases. Besides these, one can suffer from short-term memory loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), imbalance, panic attacks, loss of libido, and fainting sensation.

In my book, I have mentioned that if you have had previous neck problems like whiplash, birth injuries, traumas, falls, neck fractures, head injuries, then neck stiffness due to excessive computer use, desk jobs, driving, etc., can easily cause a reduction of blood flow because the vertebrae are already disaligned.

As excessive computer use and stress are the most common causes of neck stiffness, one can cite them as the main culprit of ill health and poor well-being. Incidentally, the most common physical symptom of stress is neck stiffness. If you touch the neck muscles of a crying baby or a person having a panic attack or a person in rage, you'll feel extreme rigidity in them. It's as if they are trying to cut out blood and fluid supply to the brain to calm it down. A patient of meningitis, with increased pressure of brain fluid and a splitting headache, also has very rigid neck muscles. The first tell-tale sign of meningitis is neck stiffness.

If you look at the entire spine, you'll see that all the organs are located in front and there is nothing behind it. The heart, lungs, liver, gut, uterus, and bladder make the body front-heavy so there is a tendency in us to "stoop" forward and the back muscles, acting as pulleys, have work hard to keep us erect.

If you look at the head, you'll notice that it is balanced on a pivot joint, with the bulk of its weight, comprised of the brain, facial bone, tongue, and eyes are located in the front — and only a fraction of it, the occiput, remains behind it. The head is, therefore, an awkwardly balanced see-saw, thanks to the homo sapiens' erect posture! This makes the job of the neck and upper back muscles even tougher.

If you lean forward in front of the computer, the strain on these muscles is tremendous. If you don't rest or have gaps between intensive work sessions, lactic acid accumulates in these muscles and they go into a spasm. The neck muscles become rigid and after a period of repetitive strain, coupled with poor diet, insomnia and lack of massage or exercises, the neck joints become stiff or immobile. That leads to chronic neck stiffness, which ultimately decreases the blood and fluid flow to the brain. Besides neck pain, one develops some of the symptoms and diseases mentioned above.

Eye strain is another common symptom of excessive computer use. The delicate muscles that move the eye balls get strained or inflamed. Some of the common symptoms are double vision, blurred vision, rapidly changing power of the glasses, pain in the eyes, and eye fatigue, causing drowsiness or chronic fatigue. If the blood flow is also reduced to the brain and its nerves, like the optic nerve, one can get additional symptoms such as loss of peripheral vision, black spots and even moving "grey" spots like "floaters."

One can also get dark circles around the eyes, bulging eyes, increased tear secretion, frontal headaches, squint in the eye (if the position of the screen is on extreme left or right), and bloodshot or red eyes.

Many young people get misdiagnosed as suffering from Multiple Sclerosis because of these eye problems and get the wrong treatment. I have used my neck treatment and yogic eye exercises to treat many such cases. If the eye strain is chronic the red eyes turn brown due to oxidation of the iron in the red hemoglobin to iron oxide. The eyes often itch and burn, adding to the overall problems.

If the arms are not supported by the desk and are suspended in the air, all sorts of RSI (repetitive strain injury) follows. The shoulders, elbows, arms, hands and fingers hurt due to constant strain in the relevant muscles, tendons and joints. These injured parts often throb with pain at night, when the muscles begin to relax. One can get shooting pain or a sensation of electric current down the tendons of muscles in the arms and shoulders — all of which are annoying as one tries to get some sleep.

Constant computer use without a break causes accumulation of lactic acid in the inner surface of arm. (It's the same metabolic byproduct which causes cramps in calf muscles and is a nightmare for athletes.) The muscles go into a spasm and press on the ulnar nerve causing tingling, burning, pins and needle sensation in the wrist and fingers. This is often misdiagnosed as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and many have had surgery which leaves an ugly and long scar above the wrist. Using my massage technique and Joint Oil, I have rescued dozens of such patients from surgery.

The constant tapping of the keyboard with the fingers can cause inflammation of tendons. That causes a lot of pain and stiffness in the hands. The tiny lumbricoid muscles located in between the bones of the hands (meta phalanges) often get inflamed and give annoying pain at night, disturbing vital sleep. It is often so severe that even pain killers don't help. I usually use my thumb to work between these bones to relieve the pain.

To read what is written on the screen, especially while typing, you have to keep the eyes constantly fixed on the words. If the task or the job is stressful, the neck stiffness is unbearable. Bad posture and long hours at the computer make one stoop forward and if one has calcium deposits (osteophytes) around the joints of neck vertebrae, the situation gets worse.

These osteophytes scratch the nerves that go down to the arm and cause tingling, numbness and pain in the fingers. These are alarming symptoms as there could be permanent nerve root damage leading to total loss of sensation in the tips of these fingers.

I am not sure if the computer, laptop, the screen and other gadgets like scanners, printers, etc. radiate any electromagnetic waves that are harmful to the brain, eyes, and the nervous system. I have a suspicion that these waves affect the body and the mind over a period of time.

Those who use computers excessively are generally irritable and don't look healthy. One of my skills is that I observe the body and the patient very carefully and can pick up tell-tale signs of ill health. That is why I often examine the eyes, tongue, face, pulse, and nails before I diagnose and ask questions.

These are some of the complications of excessive computer use. Besides work, people surf the net, browse, communicate with each other, watch movies and depend on the computers for almost everything. You can't do without it in most cases.

I must confess that all my seven books and numerous articles were written in long hand and I used a typist and my IT consultant to put the matter together. I still haven't learned to use the computer properly, other than to answer or write emails or write an article like this one. I do not have any of the above symptoms nor do I have the fear of someone hacking into the records of my numerous important clients. I have seen a lot of patients with various types of complications of computer use and have treated them. My advice is the classic expression, "Prevention is better than Cure."

Here is some advice:

1. Take a break after every 2 hours of computer use. During this break, squeeze the neck muscles at the back for 5 counts and release them for 5 counts. Do this 10 times. Massage the jaw for 1 minute. Squeeze the shoulders 10 times on each side.

Rub the palms of your hands with friction for 30 seconds till it feels warm. Apply the warm palms on your eyes. Repeat this 5 times.
Keep your head steady and look up for 5 counts, then look down for 5 counts. Then look to the right for 5 counts and to the left for 5 counts. Repeat these two exercises 5 times.
Do a head roll 5 times in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction.
Drink some water before resuming work.

2. Take a proper lunch break. After lunch, try to get a brief nap (power nap/yoga sleep). Cross your arms on the table and rest your head comfortably on them Take a deep breath in for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes. Relax you arms, neck, shoulder and back muscles. After this if you still have time, go for a brief walk in fresh air.

3. Regular 10-minute yoga exercises in the morning or evening, or both times, for neck and back. Suggested poses are Cobra Half and Full, Bridge, Spinal Twist, Turtle Pose and Neck Roll.

4. Neck and shoulder massage when possible (once a week is ideal).

5. Avoid excess coffee, salt, citric fruits and alcohol. Drink a liter and half of water.

6. Use one pillow to sleep and don't sleep on your front.

Recommended reading: The Neck Connection. Available on Amazon.com in paperback or on Kindle.
My massage technique and recommended exercises are described in this book.




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