Spinal Awareness Week 2019: Switch off to ‘reconnect’
The Alliance of UK Chiropractors (AUKC) has launched a campaign encouraging people to spend more time ‘disconnected’ from their tech devices, after seeing a rise in issues such as loneliness, stress, agoraphobia, fatigue, poor posture, aches and pains and even developmental delays in young people.
The AUKC incorporates the United Chiropractic Association (UCA), McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA) and the Scottish Chiropractic Association (SCA) and represents hundreds of chiropractors across the UK and internationally.
It says children and young adults especially are suffering a greater feeling of real-world disconnection because they’re spending so much time on their phones, computers, social media and digital games. And it reports that some children as young as five and six are getting repetitive strain injuries from playing games on their parents’ mobile phones for too long.
For Spinal Awareness Week 2019 from 12-18 May, the Alliance is holding a ‘Get Connected While Disconnected’ campaign to drive home the message that people should switch off from tech for periods of time each day, in order to reconnect with the real-world things that are essential for good physical and mental health. It has also launched a poster and video as part of the campaign.
While chiropractors provide treatments or adjustments to musculoskeletal conditions in the nervous system, this brain/body connection is just one of five areas of health they guide patients on. The others are nutrition, movement, attitudes and relationships, and rest. The AUKC says there’s a ‘disconnect’ in these five ‘pillars of health’ and that technology overuse is a major reason.
Jonathan Clarke, executive member of the UCA, said: “It would be fair to say that we are seeing an increase in the effects of modern-day technology, so people are suffering headaches, neck pains, shoulder problems, radiating symptoms, carpal tunnel problems and the like, simply because of the increase in use of computers, mobile phones, PlayStation and Xboxes.
“We are also seeing degenerative conditions in our youngsters that before have only ever really been reserved for the older generation, things like a rounding in the back of the neck. For the first time ever, that’s being seen in teenagers. The human body doesn’t finish fully developing until you’re about 24, with particular reference to the skeleton, and already, we’re demonstrating in current society the degenerative conditions in teenagers before their body has finished fully developing.
“While it is currently teenagers aged 15-16 and above that are starting to demonstrate tech-related issues, as tech advances, even younger people will inevitably start to demonstrate these traits.”
But it’s not just physical conditions that are of concern: “Tech is also affecting the emotional side of health,” said Jonathan. “People are finding that being stuck behind screens is leaving them feeling lonelier and less connected to friends and family, simply because they’re not having true 1-2-1 interactions. We think we’re being brought closer together, when in fact we’re being driven further apart by technology in that respect.
“Again, it’s young people in their teenage years and above who can experience this tech loneliness, as there is no need for them to venture out into the world and properly develop interpersonal skills when chatrooms and forums can fulfil this need too easily. This is leading in the extreme to agoraphobia.
“It’s not just us seeing this,” he added. “It’s something that’s being seen across society. We are seeing more and more information about mental health issues in youngsters because of the stress they feel if they’re disconnected even for a short period of time. With the effect that trolls have on people in the digital world, our youngsters today are facing much more emotional stress than in previous generations.
“For example, they can never get away from school bullying. It used to be that the school day ended when we walked through the school gate and we went home to our family. Now, they’ve got people bombarding them with challenges and abuses even when they’re not at school. This is why mental health issues are worse. It’s because people are so connected into these systems and don’t ever get a chance to break away.”
But getting people to switch off is a huge challenge. Researchers found that four out of five students had significant mental and physical distress and extreme isolation when forced to unplug from technology for an entire day (The World Unplugged; Dr Susan Moeller).
And another survey found that 83% of professional workers check their emails after work, while 66% take their technology with them on holiday, and more than half admit sending emails while having a meal with family or friends (Goldsmith, 2016).
Jonathan says it’s about getting the balance right: “We’re not saying ‘go and live in a barn in the middle of a remote island and disconnect from the world!’ But create those times in the day when you do take a break away. Give yourself time offline, don’t walk around with the phone in your hand 24/7. We recognise that technology is a great advancement. But we should be measuring that against our own health needs.
“For good health, we need activity, human contact and positive emotions, fresh food, quality sleep and a healthy nervous system. Often, the exact opposite is happening – inactivity and poor posture, loneliness and anxiety, unhealthy eating, poor sleep and a brain/body disconnect.
“We are hoping that this campaign can be the start of a tipping point in people making better choices. Because health issues don’t happen all of a sudden; they’re built up over time. It’s the little day in, day out repetitions that create the problems. Prevention is better than cure.”
The 5 tips to reconnect
Move: Be as active as you can.
Be social: Have regular catch-ups with family and friends.
Eat well: Prepare your own packed lunches and meals as much as possible, using healthy choices.
Rest: Switch off all tech a good period of time before going to bed.
Take care of the nervous system: Restore the brain/body connection via treatments & adjustments.