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The Facts About Smartphones and Hand Pain

In this blog, we will be focusing on smartphones and hand pain, different overuse conditions, and tips for reducing smartphone related hand pain.

The average adult in the U.S. spends at least four hours a day on a mobile device, potentially increasing the chances of smartphone related hand pain, finger pain, and wrist pain. 

I would wager a guess that time spent using our smartphones has increased dramatically over the last several weeks due to the current COVID-19 pandemic along with the associated stay-at-home recommendations.

 

The evolution of the smartphone and its ubiquitous use over the last 20 years have led to a remarkable number of useful applications. This, in turn, has created an almost endless “need” for a smart device to accompany us at all times. Some of the most common applications for smartphones are listed below:

· Connecting on social media

· Listening to podcasts and music

· Taking photos

· Navigating around town

· Playing mobile gaming apps

· Morning alarm

· Texting friends and family

· Checking emails

· Reading the news

· Checking sports scores

Consequently, if you engage in even just two or three of the activities listed above, it means your smartphone is potentially in your hands for hours from the moment you wake up until you go to bed!

Overuse Conditions

If you accept the numbers indicated in the chart above, it is very likely that you might be experiencing some hand discomfort. By the same token, this discomfort may be in your thumb, wrist, or even your elbow.

Smartphone overuse can cause pain due to inflammation of the tendons that move your wrist, fingers and thumb; what we describe as “overuse tendinitis”. Your elbow can also be affected if it is constantly bent holding the phone.

An increasingly common injury uniquely related to smartphone usage is texting thumb, which is a repetitive stress injury known as stenosing tenosynovitis. There is no bony dysfunction or other functional deficit typically associated with this process. Most of the time there is only mild to moderate inflammation with an occasional catching or locking phenomenon known as “trigger thumb”. However, it can still annoy the person experiencing it and can persist despite traditional over-the-counter remedies.

Josef Maier, PA-C

Physician Assistant to Robert Bruce, MD

Another smartphone injury becoming increasingly common with the extra-large smartphones is the “smartphone pinky.” This is when the little finger becomes deformed or dented due to balancing the smartphone with the pinky on the bottom of the phone.

Some patients also describe occasional numbness or tingling sensations due to possible carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist) or cubital tunnel syndrome (elbow) who believe it is due to smartphone use. While there is no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel syndrome, overuse of the related muscles could be a contributing factor. People with previous injuries may be at a higher risk as well.

This does not always mean you are developing severe tendonitis or early arthritis. But we are sure your body is telling you it needs a break.

Tips for Reducing Hand Pain

Perhaps future smartphone manufacturing will incorporate a more ergonomic design to help relieve hand and wrist fatigue.

But until then, here are some helpful tips to save yourself from smartphone hand pain.

  • Switch hands or take a break before your hand begins to hurt!
  • Limit texting to short messages.
  • For a long message, use voice-to-text, or go old school … call!
  • Use the swipe feature, allowing you to slide to letters rather than type.
  • Take a break and put down your phone before your hand starts hurting.
  • Stretch your fingers, wrist, and forearms.
  • If your hand is hurting, take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Place the phone on a table or counter to text using both hands.

When to Seek Professional Help

Unless numbness, tingling, cramping, and stiffness continue after you put down your phone, you do not need to see a hand specialist. If you are still experiencing symptoms when you are not using your phone, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with one of the orthopedic specialists at Kansas City Bone & Joint. 

Josef Maier, PA-C

Josef Maier, PA-C

Physician Assistant to Robert Bruce, MD

I love what I do for a living, including spending most of my day battling the effects of gravity.  Whether you experience those effects on well-worn joints or the unfortunate fracture injury from a bad fall, I can be of immediate assistance.  When gravity gets you down, please allow me to help you back up!