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IT problems?

Sometimes I see patients whose symptoms seem to be mainly due to IT. The technological revolution has proceeded much more rapidly than biological evolution does, so that human beings aren’t ‘designed’ to be sitting at a desk operating a PC (which is what I am doing right now!). Of course there are physical symptoms that result from such behaviour. You need to try to maintain a good posture, which is easier said than done if you are engrossed in whatever it is you are doing on your PC or laptop. Even then, a lot of such activity is probably going to take its toll on your neck and shoulders, and you really need to address this with the right kind of exercise, something that is going to loosen up the neck and shoulder muscles and stimulate the flow of Qi through the tissues in those areas – in Traditional Chinese Medicine the concept of Qi, which is impossible to translate accurately, includes the idea of physiological and psychological movement and flow; a stiff neck, for example, is one in and through which there is an impairment of this free flow.

And then there is the mouse. In my clinical experience using a mouse a lot can lead to something rather similar to tennis elbow, damage to the tendons of the flexor muscles of the forearm. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also a possibility, and holding the forearm in the pronated position (i.e. the position it is in when you are using a mouse!) for extended periods of time may cause tension spreading up the arm into the shoulder, shoulder blade and neck. Again there are things you can be doing to offset all this; you can get ergonomic mice which claim to reduce the risk of such injury. I’ve trained myself to be ambidextrous as far as mice are concerned, so that the strain is shared between each arm. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all! And again, exercise which gently stimulates the circulation along the meridians of the arm is going to help – meridians are the main pathways of Qi through the body. If you are really clued up you might even invest in some appropriate treatment to prevent problems arising, maybe the occasional massage or acupuncture session to help the arm (and its owner) stay in good nick. Similarly if you use a mobile a lot, there are similar issues. I suspect we will soon start to see more patients with chronic injuries caused by keypad use.

I also see patients who have eye problems as the result of computer use. Dry eyes, lazy eyes, red eyes, and so on. Again, we are not designed to be staring at a screen for hours on end. The advice is to look away regularly, but that is all too easy to forget if you are absorbed in what you are doing, or are working to a deadline. In China, apparently, school kids are taught some eye exercises and massage techniques, so that they are less likely to need spectacles! Such exercises are a must for anyone working with computers a lot; a good Chi Kung teacher or a traditional acupuncturist can teach them.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the eyes have a special connection with the liver, which is said to ‘open into the eyes’. This means that someone with a liver disharmony may develop eye problems, but this is a two-way street; damage to the eyes may lead to liver disharmony. A common form of liver disharmony is called liver qi stagnation, where the liver’s important function of maintaining the smooth flow of qi is impaired, something which is exacerbated by not getting enough exercise, and by frustration (as when the computer crashes, goes slow, or just does not do what you want it to do!). Liver qi stagnation can lead to symptoms such as headache, migraine, heartburn, constipation, angry outbursts etc. So an over-sedentary lifestyle which involves a lot of staring at a screen is setting you up for a few problems!

Beyond that, there is the effect on the mind and the spirit. No doubt that depends a lot on what exactly you are doing on your computer, but my sense is that in general it is easy to become over focused and to lose touch with one’s body and, consequently, with one’s emotions. The extreme examples include a South Korean who died after playing a video game non-stop for almost 50 hours – apparently he had a heart attack. My guess is that his body had been protesting at what was happening to it for a long time, but he paid no attention. More moderate examples no doubt abound. I remember treating a young man for something which had been labelled as ‘depression’; he spent a lot of his working day on the computer, and then he came home and, guess what, more computer time. He seemed to have lost touch with himself. My personal experience is that there is something subtly addictive about using things like computers; I notice that when I finish doing something like writing this, I will look for some other things to do here, check my e-mail or look at the news, as if I am somehow reluctant to disengage from the technology. Maybe I’m just lazy, but it seems something more than that. Years ago I went to some lectures by an Oxford university academic who suggested there is something narcissistic about computer use – comparing someone staring into a screen to Narcissus. In Greek mythology Narcissus (who was rather good looking) became so enamoured of staring at his reflection in a forest pool that he could not tear himself away, and so eventually died. Possibly something similar to the South Korean mentioned above.

This all suggests that anyone using technology a lot needs to make sure they keep in touch with themselves on a number of levels. The most basic level is the level of the physical body. Exercise, and especially exercise which includes an emphasis on mindfulness and awareness, is essential. The injuries involved are usually chronic ones, so that the longer that you ignore them for, the more difficult they will be to heal. More subtly is the level of the emotions; too much use of IT may (perhaps depending on what we use it for), start to cut us off from what we really feel, and, in a sense, from who we really are.

Written by Vimalaprabha

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