Student’s Technology Addiction Causes Rare Medical Condition

By May Wilkerson 01/13/16

How one young woman turned a painful disease into a new chance.

Jean-Pierre Dalbera (via Wiki Commons)

Much has been said about modern young people’s dependence on social media, which can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. But Internet addiction can have physical consequences as well. One student in the United Kingdom became so dependent on technology that she developed a rare medical condition called Tietze disease caused by years of hunching over her devices.

Michelle Gore, 21, reportedly spent up to 23 hours a day on her tablet, smartphone and laptop. “I was never without my phone or some other device because I couldn’t bear to miss out on updates from apps like Snapchat, Instagram or WhatsApp,” she says. “Before I went to bed I’d play games on my PlayStation or Xbox or watch Netflix. Just so I didn’t miss out, I’d leave my phone on all night in case a message came through."

Gore, from Berkshire, England, said she first realized she had a problem in December 2014 when she woke up tangled up in wires from her multiple devices. A month later, she suffered shooting pains in her back and chest. Her doctor diagnosed the 21-year-old with a rare, benign but painful condition called Tietze disease. Basically, through years of bending her back to look at screens, she had strained the cartilage in her chest that helps the ribs extend forward, causing inflammation.

“It came as a real shock but luckily it was the wake-up call I needed to sort myself out” said Gore. She went cold turkey from technology for a month and says she has since recovered from dependence on gadgets. She now works with UK-based charity Fixers helping to educate other young people about the dangers of technology addiction.

More and more young people are getting severely hooked on their devices, according to Dr. Richard Graham, consulting adolescent psychiatrist and technology addiction specialist at Fixers. He says the problem can be difficult to treat because, unlike alcoholism or drug addiction, total abstinence is unrealistic. Instead, people in treatment must learn to develop a healthy relationship with technology.

“We need technology in our lives and it brings a host of benefits,” said Graham. “It can, however, drain us of our time as we spend more and more time online. This can become a compulsion to be constantly plugged in so that we don’t ever risk feeling that we are missing out, or stepping off a ladder.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.