Technology and Our Health

Last month saw the launch of the new iPhone 7, and although in my eyes it seems like they’d just given the old phone a paint-job and removed a useful headphone socket, apparently it’s still a revolutionary step forward in technology. The massive hullabaloo that’s usually associated with a new iPhone release did however get me thinking a bit more about the world of technology from a health point of view. Have advances in technology been a positive or a negative? How will the technology of the future affect us?

As the cogs in my mind slowly started to turn, one of my first thoughts was of the increasing dependence on smart phones, tablets and computers in our day-to-day lives. I personally can recall a few cases of young individuals coming to see me with back pain, neck pain, and headaches simply from over-use of their smart phones and computer games. With the youngsters in question, pain had developed simply from just spending so long in one position doing NOTHING but playing on games for hours on end every day. Some simple advice on getting up and moving around, along with the groundbreaking idea of going outside to play for a change saw some quick improvements. I am of the opinion that young bodies are extremely resilient and adaptable, and as long as they continue to move more and exercise then they shouldn’t suffer long lasting ill effects. People have, after all, craned their necks down to read papers for centuries without a massive epidemic of neck pain, so on balance, the dependence on smart phones shouldn’t cause greater problems provided we all remember to move.

Are New Innovations Making us Lazy?

Technology is always moving forward, and companies have embrace it to create new products, and continue growing and making profits. In this pursuit of better and more advanced products there seems to be this over-searching for solutions to problems that don’t exist. To use an example; in the past people used to walk everywhere, this took ages, so we learned how to ride horses, which took a little less time but also ages. To help us get places quicker we invented cars and planes, which now means we can be in a completely different country in Europe in less than a few hours. Those kind of inventions have helped our civilisation greatly.

Now that a lot of these big problems have answers, we seem to be working into smaller and smaller niches to find minor issues to fix that aren’t actually a problem at all. A few examples of this are having voice control for your TV, so that you don’t have to press a button on your remote control, or car key sensors instead of having to reach in your pocket and press a button to open your car door. Taking that a step further, the idea of self driving cars; another innovation that just takes control and effort away from us, so we can sit and do nothing. Virtual reality headsets are another invention an that allows us to see things without ever moving from our armchairs. Things that we might otherwise have to experience the old fashioned way, by actually travelling somewhere and doing something.

I realised the above rant probably makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but it’s led me to think the more we use technology to make every part of our lives easier, the less we will actually have to do. My (possibly slightly irrational) concern is that in a hundred years time, we could turn into the people from the Disney film WALL-E who’ve evolved to never move!

Wearable Gadgetstech2

In an effort to try and embrace technology to promote health however, companies such at Fitbit and Jawbone have filled the gap in the market by producing wearable monitors that track you through the day. They monitor things such as heart rate, sleep quality and step count. On the face of it, this sounds like a great way to track and measure our stats more easily, but evidence for the actual effect of these devices improving your health and fitness is still quite limited. In my opinion people may become complacent and think if they’re hitting their step-count for the day then they don’t need to go out and do any other exercise, or if they do go to the gym they might focus on getting their step-count up on the treadmill, rather than having a more varied workout which would have a much better effect on all-round health and fitness. I do however encourage and support any technology that at least encourages us to think more about being active. With no pun intended.. its a step in the right direction.

The Benefits of New Technology

Technology has made a great difference to our health in some areas if we look wider afield. The advances in some of the ergonomic equipment in modern factories for example has enabled workers to reduce the repetitive physical heavy lifting, and reduce the injuries associated. Improved wireless connectivity has meant there is now more opportunity for normally cubicle-bound office workers to be more flexible, working whenever and wherever they want. This gives the option of moving around more and taking more breaks, which can help counter the bad effects of being static for too long. In the more forward-thinking parts of Europe, technology such as the sit-stand desks has become more standard in every office, to give employees the option of sitting or standing to work through the day.

Improvements in medical technology is another area of great benefit. In recent times we have started to see trials of robots in the operating theatre which can perform amazingly precise and complicated tasks a surgeons hands would not be able to replicate. Something that should lead to much higher success rates from surgeries, with reduced scarring and improved recovery times. Developments in fields such as stem cell research have also started to see what would be once thought of as science fiction; the growing of replicate organs to replace our failing ones. This means people in the future have the possibility of organ transplants without the need for drugs that stop our bodies rejecting the donor organs.

Technology in Physiotherapy

Technology has played its part in physiotherapy diagnosis and treatment over the years. The use of MRI scans as a tool to help diagnose musculoskeletal problems has had a debatable benefit (as I have discussed in a previous article on back pain), but advances in imaging technology does mean that its easier to pick up things such as cancer more easily. Equipment such high definition 2D and 3D recording equipment, force plates and motion sensors used in the assessment of running has been of great assistance when trying to break down and analyse the complexities of human movement.

The use of technology in physiotherapy treatment is something that has moved in and out of fashion. In decades past there was a rise in the popularity of electrotherapy as part of treatment. It’s initial popularity, as with any new treatment, had a ‘novelty factor’. The shiny new ultrasound machines with flashing lights and beeps were very popular with patients, but as the years have passed and more research has been done, a lot of these fancy gizmo’s are now only a very small part of a physio’s toolkit, and I don’t see them playing a bigger role in the future.

In summary, the advances in technology seem to me at least, to be a bit of a mixed blessing. And although we are probably unlikely to have an epidemic of neck pain caused by smart phones, the perceived need for technology to remove all effort from our daily tasks may not be that great for our health. On a positive note, advances in technology in the workplace and medical field have done and will continue to provide benefits. As a physio I’d say I’m a bit skeptical about some of the advances in technology in our field, but I shall try not to let my inner grumpy old man take over, and keep an open mind to the future innovations that could help the profession.  

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