Smartphone Thumb: When the Toys We Love Don’t Love Us Back

Smartphone ThumbOh, how we love our smartphones. With a wealth of information available at the touch of a screen and friends, family, and colleagues a quick text, email, or phone call away, it’s like having the world in the palm of your hand. You wouldn’t expect something so wonderful to cause you pain, which just adds to the indignity of smartphone thumb.

Smartphone thumb may sound silly, but the pain that results from overuse can be text stopping. Smartphone thumb is a repetitive stress injury defined by pain or discomfort in the wrist and thumb when bending either one toward the pinkie finger. You may also experience a dull ache in the base of your thumb or pain and snapping in your thumb when you bend and straighten it.

So what exactly causes that pain? Smartphone thumb comes from typing on a little keyboard with your thumbs while holding your hands in an awkward position. But we depend so much on these amazing gadgets that we’ll put up with a lot of pain before even thinking about setting them aside.

If you’re suffering from smartphone overuse, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Limit your use of your cell phone for texting, emailing, gaming, and Internet searching. When possible, use a computer with a regular-sized keyboard or plug a larger keyboard into your smartphone.
  • Hold your phone in one hand and type with your index finger rather than your thumbs.
  • Stop and rest your hands if you feel discomfort and gently stretch your thumbs, fingers and wrists.
  • Watch your posture. Don’t hunch over your phone, and do take time to stretch regularly.
  • Use ice packs to reduce inflammation.

Pain associated with smartphones isn’t relegated solely to your thumbs and wrists. You may experience pain in your elbows, neck, and shoulders, particularly if you hold your cell phone to your ear or cradle your cell phone (or regular land line phone) between your ear and shoulder. That pain is pretty easily preventable – simply stop holding your cell phone to your ear or cradling your cell phone between your shoulder and ear. Use your speaker phone or a hands-free ear device, like the ear phones/speaker that come with most phones. They work great.If you’ve followed our advice above and still feel pain, it may be time to seek help. The orthopedic hand & upper extremity experts at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center can work with you to set up a stretching and exercise plan to help reduce or reverse your pain.

Do you have smartphone thumb? If so, what steps have you taken to prevent it? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

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