Anna Clark, the owner of BodyWorks Injury Clinic, discusses the work she has been doing on identifying the risks to young people associated with technology use, and its wider implications to the workforce.
For the last year, I’ve been working with Cardinus on a project to identify the risks to young people that come from our obsession with smartphones, tablets, and other touch-screen technologies. The impact has been heard around the world, from surgeons who no longer have the dexterity to perform delicate operations, to mental health risks, to elite athletes struggling to retain focus.
However, the MSD risks associated with technology use is poorly documented, particularly in young people. That’s why our project exists. Providing firm evidence for the risk will allow us to develop new programs and new solutions to mitigate and reduce the potentially huge risk to young people. And, for businesses, this means the future workforce too.
From the Transformative to the Terrifying
Technology has always provided humans with a means of overcoming the limitations of our physical bodies. We built the wheel to transport quantities of goods over large distances, we built bridges to quickly traverse rivers and valleys, we developed intricate systems of commerce that helped to speed up development across the world, and we invented the computer to run mathematical calculations at a pace many times quicker than any human could.
With the smartphone you combine a thousand technologies in a huge number of ways in one device that allows instant communication, access to vast quantities of information, the power to compute multiple, complex problems in a second, and the availability of tens of hundreds of apps that can help you sleep at night, project manage your life, view your bank accounts or any number of different tasks.
But, technology comes with its problems too. Smartphone ‘addiction’ appears to be on the rise. We have become less sociable, less focused and more reliant on our technology. The physical effects are also apparent. The transformative nature of technology can also have terrifying unseen social and physical impacts. By uncovering the potential risks we can, at a societal or an individual level, put in place the proper protections to reduce and minimize public health risks.
The Project So Far
The first year has been a grueling nose-to-the-grindstone type of year. We’ve been spending a lot of it building the foundations for the project. This means reviewing the existing literature and putting together a systematic review so that we can better understand the evidence base that’s out there.
We have also drawn up the first phase of the approach, which is an online survey that will go out to schools up and down the country so that children will have a chance to self-report the ways they use technology, how long for and the type of activities they’re using them for. We have also asked them to self-report MSD-type pain.
All this information will be gathered and collected to help inform the later stage of the project where we will be conducted physical tests and measurements on young people to ascertain the way they use technology and the impact it has upon a growing body.
Long Term Projections
The project will conclude in 2021. By then we should have built up a strong evidence base for the link between in MSDs in young people and technology use. This will help us to understand the types of injuries young people will be bringing into the workplace. From there Cardinus will be considering the strategies, programs, and techniques that will help alleviate injury, mitigate risk and reduce pain.
Whether this is a technological approach, a training approach or simply a set of guidelines that can help young staff to manage their risk, the outcomes will see an improvement in health and wellbeing. With wellbeing a central focus of corporate strategy these days, a strategy to deal with young workers’ health is a must. Future, forward-thinking organizations will see wellbeing as a core to retention, productivity and staff health targets and implement support for young workers.
We hope to see a positive outcome to this project, and by building the foundations now we are investing in the future workforce and future health of our staff.
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Anna Clark is a senior pediatric physiotherapist (MSc) and owner of BodyWorks Injury Clinic, a private physiotherapist clinic treating sporting and non-sporting injuries. She has extensive experience as a physiotherapist, having worked for the NHS and privately for over 10 years. Her interest in childhood musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions has piqued in recent years after seeing a marked rise in the number of children presenting with MSK issues. She has now undertaken a Ph.D. at the University of Salford to study this specific concern as part of a joint-funded research project with Cardinus Risk Management.