If you’re texting, calling, emailing, reading the news, plus playing games, swiping left and right on romantic possibilities, taking photos, ordering dinner, and using apps that run your life from your SmartPhone, you might be getting sorwho e. No, not just from the annoying News and Calendar Alerts that flit across the screen. The tendons and joints in your wrists, fingers, and thumbs that are working in overdrive might actually be wearing down, putting you at risk for hand injuries and wrist injuries.
According to Pew Research Center, more than 75% of adults in the United States own a SmartPhone; 92% of those aged 18 to 29 say they have one. There’s not a lot of variability in the types of movements we make when using our phones. Considering that some studies estimate we now spend up to 5 hours a day using our SmartPhones, that’s an awful lot of grasping, tapping, pressing, and swiping — particularly with your dominant hand. Repetitive movements are at the root of a lot of arm, hand, wrist, and finger pain — everything from carpal tunnel syndrome to arthritis.
So, if you’re not smart with your SmartPhone, what kinds of conditions might you develop?
Common SmartPhone-related Conditions
The thumb is probably the likeliest digit to tire first because it’s used for so many SmartPhone activities, from activating the security feature to scrolling through politician’s and comedian’s Twitter posts.
You may have tendinitis in your thumb or fingers if you notice symptoms such as:
While you might feel tempted to “soldier” through your hand and wrist pain and “Like” all your friends’ Facebook posts to show solidarity, untreated tendinitis can lead to more serious conditions.
The first step is to give your aching thumbs and fingers a REST:
- Alter your finger pattern when texting
- Use your voice-control function
- Switch your phone to your other hand
You can also add in the other components of the “RICE” protocol: Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation.
If you don’t feel any relief of your symptoms after a day or two, check in with a hand and wrist surgeon for an evaluation.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A June 2017 study from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggests that a 5+ hour a day SmartPhone habit might actually damage the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand through a bony structure called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve is responsible for conveying sensation to the thumb, index finger, middle finger and the thumb side of the ring finger. When the fingers, thumb, and wrist engage in repetitive motions, over time, it may cause irritation and inflammation of the ligaments and tendons that run through the carpal tunnel alongside the median nerve. The inflamed tissues press against the nerve, causing pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands, fingers, thumbs, and wrist.
This study followed 48 students aged 18 to 25 and found that texting had adverse effects on the fingers, thumbs, hands, and wrists that suggested the median nerve had been compromised. Symptoms included pain, tingling, and numbness.
If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent damage to the median nerve within weeks. This could permanently impair the hand’s function and/or require surgery. If you suspect you may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome, see a hand specialist as soon as possible.
Arthritis is an inflammatory disorder of the joints that has many causal components, including genetics. However, repetitive stress due to overuse of a joint can exacerbate its effects. The tendons and ligaments surrounding the joint can also be affected.
If you feel pain, numbness or tingling in your wrist, fingers, hands, or thumbs, and have a history or family history of arthritis, schedule a consultation with a hand and wrist specialist to be sure everything’s in working order.
In most cases, SmartPhone use won’t lead to repetitive stress injuries, such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, or to disorders such as arthritis. But if you notice that your fingers and hands are starting to tire, pay attention. Take frequent breaks throughout the day. Stretch your hands, wrists, and fingers to stimulate circulation and keep your tendons, joints, and ligaments flexible and strong. Use the RICE protocol if you notice any pain, tingling, or numbness.
At the first sign of trouble, schedule a consultation with the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute. We can diagnose and treat you in the same center on the same day. Find us at 8841 E. Bell Rd. St #201, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, call us or contact us via email form. We’re open from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.