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Hand Pain & Smartphones: When Your Phone Isn’t Doing Your Body Good

Did you know the average American spends 5 hours a day on a mobile device? That can lead to issues like trigger finger, texting thumb, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more.

There isn’t a day that goes by that most Americans aren’t on their smartphones. What don’t they do for us? They’re our watch, camera, alarm and GPS. They’re where we get our news and music. We use them for texting, social media, email, internet, and every once in a while, we might use it to make a phone call.

If that list looks at all like yours, then you’re like most people. The issue for orthopaedic specialists comes in when you’re on your smartphone for hours every day. A 2015 study by Flurry, a mobile analytics company, found that the average American spends five hours a day on a mobile device, which was up 20 percent from the same time period in the previous year. Those trends have, at minimum, remained the same if not increased.

Smartphone-Related Orthopedic Issues
That kind of time investment can cause physical issues for smartphone users. From hand discomfort to wrist and elbow pain, we see patients with a variety of problems that can be traced back to phone use. It isn’t always the main reason for the pain but can play a noteworthy role in the conditions our patients develop.

One of the most common smartphone issues we encounter is the trigger thumb — or trigger finger. It falls under the category of repetitive stress injury, a.k.a. stenosing tenosynovitis. We also have a number of patients who experience carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists or cubital tunnel syndrome in their elbows.

6 Ways You Can Outsmart Your Smartphone Pain
To our readers who are feeling the pain when it comes to their smartphone use, there’s hope. There’s the obvious advice: put down your phone. Since that isn’t likely to happen, however, we do have some tips to help alleviate discomfort.

  1. Stretch the muscles involved with phone use: fingers, wrists, forearms
  2. Play games or text in burst — break up your use into shorter sessions
  3. Use voice-to-text
  4. Get the hang of the swipe feature by sliding your fingers to letters over typing
  5. Switch hands
  6. Take over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce swelling and inflammation

How Much Pain is Too Much Pain?
Cramping and stiffness that continue once you stop using your phone are red flags. Numbness and tingling are even bigger red flags. Any symptoms that continue well past phone use should be considered reasons to see a Beacon hand and wrist specialist, like Dr. Mohab Foad, Dr. Sam Koo, and Dr. Michael Wigton.

“Hand and wrist issues from cell phone use are very common, particularly from texting,” shared Dr. Wigton. “Patients should seek specialist care if they have symptoms that are persisting for any length of time. Clicking of the thumb or a feeling that the thumb is jumping out of place could be trigger thumb. Pain of the wrist with wrist and thumb motion could be tendinitis. Early treatment of these conditions may result in a cure with non-surgical options.”

Depending on a patient’s symptoms and ultimate diagnosis, treatment may call for:

  • Immobilization for a few weeks allows tendons to rest and recover
  • Medication that might be used along with immobilization or on its own — it can include an injection as part of a minimally invasive treatment or a pill in hopes of inflammation reduction
  • Surgery is the last option and uncommon for issues caused solely by phone use

Smartphones are an indelible part of life in the 21st century. Make sure you manage your usage to reduce your risk of phone-related pain. However, if you start to experience issues, we’re here for you with same-day appointments available. Schedule now.