Occipital Neuralgia: The painful condition caused by your smart phone

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skeleton holding back

Your smart phone could be seriously damaging your health.

If you're experiencing headaches, an extremely tender scalp, pain behind one eye, how you use your devices could be to blame. Experts tell Newsbeat they are seeing cases of "text neck."

This is when people use tablets or smart phones in a way that strains muscles. "It's a term used for people in prolonged postures - they can get neck pain, arm pain, shoulder pain, headaches," says Priya Dasoju a physiotherapist.

"What we see are cervicogenic headaches."

These are headaches caused by neck tensions.

The problem is that we're all craning our heads forward over our screens and it's creating intense pressure on the front and backs of our necks.

It can become very severe and in some cases a condition called Occipital Neuralgia develops.

Occipital Neuralgia is a neurological condition in which the occipital nerves - that run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp - are inflamed or injured.

It can be confused with headaches or migraine.

"About 30% of our the patients we see have Occipital Neuralgia" says Lola Phillips, a registered osteopath.

"You tend to get it through posture when using tablets, laptops or smart phones. You get tightness at the front of your neck and a weakness at the back."

Image source, Corbis

The pain can be an aching, burning or throbbing that starts at the base of the head and radiates to the scalp.

Usually the headaches develop at the back of your head in the occipital, but sometimes the pain is at the front of the head around the temples.

Adam Clark Estes started getting headaches a few months back he wrote on Gizmodo .

He describes the pain as intense: "If a bad hangover headache feels splitting, I'd describe these headaches as searing.

"As if someone had hit me over the head with a red hot rod of steel sending electric bolts of pain across my skull," he says.

You can get pain on one or both sides of the head, behind the eye or when moving your neck.

"Sufferers should think about adopting a number of different postures when using their smart phone. Sit back and upright. Lift the device up or use a stand," explains registered osteopath, Lola Phillips.

"Have some downtime too. Have some discipline with your phone use," she says.

Treatments include posture correction, massage and taking anti-inflammatory drugs, but in some cases more extreme measures are needed.

Adam Clark Estes had the nerves around his neck injected with half a dozen syringes filled with a cocktail of steroids and numbing agents.

It made his head go completely numb: "It hurt. I think the doctor gave me about 20 separate injections, after which I came frightfully close to passing out."

"After regaining my composure on the examination table, Dr. Cardiel told me that I should feel better after about a day, and I did," he says.

Muscle relaxants can also be prescribed, as well as anticonvulsant drugs and antidepressants.

Nerve block and steroid injections might be taking over several weeks to get control of your pain.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Maybe selfie sticks could help relieve the tension?

Experts say prevention is the best thing. So rather than stooping over your smart phone, lift it up to your eye level.

"Make sure you're not in a sustained posture for too long," says physiotherapist, Priya Dasoju.

"Put a reminder on your phone or computer to make sure you check your posture every few minutes."

Experts are keen to point out that conditions caused by your tech are just painful, not fatal.

Physio, Priya Dasoju, says one of the main ways to avoid "text neck" is to stop "the chin-poking-forward posture.

"It's too late if you're already feeling pain," she says.

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