Is your cell phone dangerous to your health?

Young people looking at his mobile telephone while crossing a road.

Have you ever been walking along while looking at your cell phone and nearly run into someone or something? If so, you’re not alone. It happens to me all the time. If I veer into another person’s path, I move aside, apologize, and promise myself I’ll be more careful. And then I return to whatever I was doing on my phone.

Maybe there’s a message in this I’m missing. That’s certainly the suggestion of a new study on head and neck injuries linked to cell phone use.

Which injuries are most likely — and where do they occur?

Using data from 100 hospitals in the US, researchers reviewed injuries to the head and neck related to cell phone use affecting more than 2,500 people over the last 20 years. Analysis of these injuries showed that:

  • About 40% of these injuries occurred at home.
  • A “direct mechanical injury” (such as being struck by a cell phone or an injury related to an exploding battery) accounted for 47% of cases, while use-related injuries accounted for 53%. However, this varied by age. Direct injury was much more common among those younger than age 13. Injuries directly related to use (such as distraction while texting) were more common among older individuals.
  • About 10% of injuries occurred while a person was driving and using a cell phone, about 7% occurred while walking, and only about 1% were reported while the user was texting.
  • 94% of those who did get injured required no treatment or were treated in the ED and released. While cuts and bruises accounted for over half of these cases, 18% were more serious, including traumatic brain injury.
  • The rate of these injuries has increased dramatically since 2007, when the Apple IPhone was introduced.

If the experience of these hospitals is representative of the nation as a whole, it translates to an estimated 76,000 people suffering head and neck injuries related to cell phone use over the last two decades. Even though this number is large, it’s less than two injuries per 100,000 cell phone users each year.

No study is perfect

This study may be the first to provide details regarding the relationship between cell phone use and head and neck injuries. However, it had some significant limitations. Keep in mind that the study focused on head and neck injuries. People with multiple injuries or more serious injuries (such as a heart attack or an ankle fracture) might not have been included in the count. Individuals who sought care at their doctor’s office or urgent care centers would also be excluded from this study.

In addition, information about the circumstances of an injury can be incomplete. Embarrassment or concerns about legal liability might have discouraged some from disclosing information about cell phone use when their injury occurred. Finally, information about what happened after the emergency room visit was not reported, so this study provides no insight into the long-term impact or cost of these injuries.

Some final thoughts

Cell phones are amazing. They are an instant source of information, communication, and documentation. Health apps can encourage and track healthy behaviors. GPS tracking can help parents keep their kids safe. Phoning for help in an emergency can be lifesaving.

Yet there are clearly downsides to cell phone use: distracted driving leading to automobile accidents may be the most obvious example, but as this new research shows, other injuries can be linked to cell phone use as well. There are also concerns about possible connections between cell phone use and upper back and neck pain, as well as an increased cancer risk (an area of controversy and active research).

Perhaps cell phones should have warning labels about how to use them responsibly. Of course, this would likely just sound like common sense: put the phone away while driving, walking, running, or doing anything that requires your attention to avoid injury.

My guess is that short of legislation banning cell phone use in specific circumstances, or other major changes in our daily lives such as self-driving cars, injuries related to cell phone use will continue to rise. So, if you’re reading this post on your cell phone while walking or otherwise on the move, please put your phone away and watch where you’re going!

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Proverbs 29:6 By transgression an evil man is ensnared, But the righteous sings and rejoices.

Lamentations 5:14 Elders are gone from the gate, Young men from their music.

Jeremiah 20:13 Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one From the hand of evildoers.

Job 30:31 “Therefore my harp is turned to mourning, And my flute to the sound of those who weep.

Nehemiah 12:27 Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.

Psalm 27:6 And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.

Psalm 57:7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!

Psalm 81:1-2 Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, strike the timbrel, The sweet sounding lyre with the harp.

Psalm 87:7 Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, “All my springs of joy are in you.”

Psalm 92:32 With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, With resounding music upon the lyre.

Psalm 95:2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

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