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Working to fix a real pain in the neck

UOIT professor presents award-winning research on technology overuse and associated problems

UOIT professor research

Dr. Bernadette Murphy, professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, presented her latest research findings at the recent 2015 REA Speaker Series. Her work has shown that chronic neck pain that is associated with the use of technological devices could lead to more problems down the road.

By Sadia Badhon/The Oshawa Express

A UOIT professor’s research on abnormal postures leading to chronic neck pain and other injuries often associated with extensive technology use might make you reconsider how you use your cell phone and other technological devices.

Dr. Bernadette Murphy, human neurophysiology researcher and professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, is the recipient of the university’s 2014 Research Excellence Award (REA). She did her presentation, entitled “Understanding how to shape technology so it doesn’t shape us,” at the recent 2015 REA speaker series.

In her original training, practising as a chiropractor, she observed that many people who had problems with their neck would say they had other problems as well. For example, they would start hitting their head when they were getting out of their car, or start biting their tongue when chewing, or hitting their arm as they were walking through doors.

“I came to the conclusion or understanding that because their neck had a problem, the input from their neck to the brain was changed and that was changing the brain’s perception of the body,” Dr. Murphy tells The Oshawa Express, adding that this was an area that required more understanding.

This lead to the research she has done on the topic over the last 20 years.

A study published in the journal Surgical Technology International last year showed that when the neck is in a neutral position, it carries the head’s weight of about 10 to 12 pounds. But with the neck flexed 60 degrees forward, 60 pounds of force is placed on the cervical spine – enough to cause damage over time.

“Imagine how you can close your eyes and touch your nose with your finger. You don’t have to see your nose to know where your nose is because your brain has a map of your body,” she says. “If you’re always holding your neck or your back in one position because you’re using technology or you’re working in an awkward position, what happens is that changes the input from the muscles to the brain.” This, is turn, causes the brain to start making errors because the brain has difficulty perceiving information correctly, she added.

She suggests changing postures often, remembering to sit upright and not slouching, and taking breaks when using technology for long periods of time to avoid future injuries.

“When people have a problem with their neck, it totally affects the way that they’re able to perform movements…not only that, but the altered input from the neck has a dramatic affect on the excitability of the brain and the ability of the brain to actually help the person learn that new skill,” she said.

Dr. Murphy says she sees this research being applied to businesses and industry in the future because chronic neck pain problems have an impact on the quality of life of workers and also on work productivity.