SMARTPHONES AND HAND PAIN
With smartphone technology constantly evolving and improving, many of us are on our phones all throughout the day. It’s often the first item we grab in the morning and the last thing we put down at night. According to ZDNet, the average person in the US spends 5.4 hours a day on a mobile device, but for many people, this number is much, much higher. This increases cases of hand injuries such as “texting thumb” and carpal tunnel syndrome. Smartphone overuse causes pain in the wrist because tendons that connect to the thumb can become inflamed.
WHAT IS RSI?
Repetitive strain injury, or RSI, is a term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves, and tendons caused by repetitive movement, overuse, or long periods of time in a fixed position. This strain causes microscopic tears that cause muscle injury. While historically it’s been found in laborers, such as miners, that perform the same tasks repeatedly, it’s recently become more common in avid smartphone users. Repetitive movements make it more difficult for muscles to repair, as there is continual use and no rest period. In some cases, when preventative measures are not taken, RSI can become chronic, long-term pain.
The first common injury tied to smartphone usage is stenosing tenosynovitis, which is more commonly known as “texting thumb” or “trigger thumb”. This is an RSI that causes the tendon in the thumb to become inflamed. While it can be extremely painful, nothing is broken or dislocated. Preventative measures should be taken – in severe cases, the thumb can be locked in a bent position and require surgery to correct it.
The other common injury tied to the overuse of a smartphone is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful hand and wrist disorder, and while there is no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, overusing the related muscles from holding a smartphone can be a contributor.
PREVENTION OF INJURY
Maintain proper technique when typing or texting for the prevention of soreness and pain from RSI. When texting, it is important to keep wrists as straight as possible, which will alleviate stress on the muscles. When it comes to your thumbs, use both thumbs for typing or scrolling; alternating to prevent overuse.
You can also take mini-breaks from your device to stretch your fingers and wrists. Flex your wrist muscles and fingers, or even stop to give those muscles a quick massage.
A few other stretches to try:
Extend one arm out in front of you, with your palms facing upwards. Grab your fingertips with your other arm and pull your fingers down towards your body until you feel stretching in your wrist.
Straighten out your fingers, and then pull them in and make a fist. Hold the first for 30-60 seconds before releasing and repeating.
Place your hand, palm down, on a flat surface. Gently lift one finger at a time off the surface. Repeat 8-10 times on each hand.
The ultimate way to both prevent and treat RSI is to take breaks from your device and rest. In this digital and mobile age, it is important to allow your hands and wrists time to relax. Put your phone down, just for a little, and your hands and wrists will thank you later.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you are still having symptoms when you are not using your phone, it is time to set up an appointment with one of our experts at Cape Fear Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. A hand specialist is able to listen to your symptoms and perform tests to determine if you have a repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or arthritis.
At Cape Fear Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, we understand that pain in the hand can make simple, everyday activities challenging.
Our Hand & Upper Extremities specialist, Dr. Benjamin Levine, has years of experience and research in treating upper extremity trauma. Dr. Levine completed his training in Orthopedics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and completed his fellowship at the University of Rochester. He previously served as the hand surgeon for multiple professional teams in Minnesota, including the Vikings, Twins, Wild, and Timberwolves.
Our experts understand that proper diagnosis is paramount in determining the most effective treatment plan for your individual condition. For a consultation with one of our providers, call us at (910) 484-2171.