A Texting P.S.A.

Virtually every single patient I see in the clinic is there because they are in pain.  I do my best to educate, treat and assist them out of their painful experience and back to full healthy function.  But I also believe in prevention, and that's what today's post is about.

One of the things that I don't do is fear-monger.  I don't believe in saying to people, "If you do action x, it will lead to outcome y".  I'll certainly teach ways to move and function that may be more optimal for the patient, but I draw the line at making declarative statements.  As I've said many times in the past, the human body is just too variable to make definitive assertions about the future.

Last year, there was a study that was published and heavily circulated on social media about "text neck", or "tech neck".  The author drew a correlation between the pressure exerted on the cervical spine with forward flexion and neck pain.  He concluded that the constant head-down position we find ourselves in due to our omnipresent device usage will lead to pain, damage, and maybe even surgery.  Pretty scary words, in my opinion.  You mean to tell me that if I text too much, I'm destined for the O.R.?  If that's the case, we'll all one day be unified by our common neck scars.  Texting is not going away.

While I'll stop way short of declaring that over-texting will lead to surgery, I certainly think that we'd all be better off lifting our heads more often, pulling our shoulders back, breathing in more deeply, and taking in the world immediately surrounding us.  I see the opposite behavior every day on my walk to and from Penn Station.  People connected via their phones to places unknown, while completely oblivious to their immediate vicinities.  I suppose they assume that everyone else will get out of their way as they tend to whatever important task lies at the tips of their thumbs.  That would be fine, until the day we all decide just to walk by leading with the crowns of our heads.  While the ambulatory texters are mildly annoying, at least they aren't a real threat.  Last week I looked over at a girl who was driving (not simply waiting at a light) on Old Country Road (a busy multi-lane road on Nassau County) in rush our, head down, both thumbs texting away.  Do what you want on your own open road, but as long as you have a 2-ton weapon surrounding you, it is all of our business.

Why the preachy message?  I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  I also am not sitting on a high horse, as I too have checked my phone at a red light.  The reason I'm writing about this today is because of something I observed earlier while driving, and something one of my patients told me a couple of weeks ago.

A few hours ago, I was waiting to make a right hand turn at a red light.  I was focusing my attention on the traffic coming from my left.  As I edged up to make the turn, I caught sight of a woman stepping off the curb to my right to cross in front of me.  She was texting away, and didn't once glance up as she made it across.  It would have been my fault had I hit her, and fortunately nothing happened.  But at this same time, I was wondering how someone could be so oblivious while walking amid traffic?  I know when I'm out for a run, and I'm the pedestrian in that exact same scenario, I always make sure I get eye contact with the driver first before proceeding.  I know it doesn't seem like much of a big deal, but the startled looks of the drivers reminds me that they are rarely looking right to make that turn.  Drivers (myself included) tend to focus exclusively on the auto traffic, and forget entirely about pedestrians.

One of my patients is seeing me following a second hip operation.  She is only 31 years old, but has undergone two hip operations and a knee operation stemming from being hit by a car as a pedestrian 2007.  She's a great person, and works diligently to get herself back to full functional capacity.  But her frustrations often boil over, and I'm always there to lend a sympathetic ear.  I have full faith that she will be okay in the long run, but it's a tough road for her.  She said the following to me two weeks ago:

"You know, if there is one message I could give to people it would be to tell them that it's not worth it.  Even if I was in a situation where I won some big monetary award for my troubles, it's simply not worth it.  I wouldn't wish this on anyone, and if people just paid a little more attention, then perhaps they will avoid being in my shoes one day."

An ounce of prevention is a wonderful thing.  I'm always encouraging folks to invest in their health now so that their body will give back to them in the future.  In this case, the preventative step that we're talking about is simply slipping your phone into your pocket as you walk or drive.  It can't be any easier than that.  There is nothing on that little screen that is more important than your and your neighbor's health.  It can wait.