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Are Smartphones Causing Repetitive Strain Injuries? Learn How To Prevent Them

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

In addition to making calls, our smartphones have become essential for tasks like texting, staying updated with news, setting reminders, and providing entertainment. However, many individuals often engage in texting or scrolling with improper hand and wrist positions, leading to strain on these body parts, including the fingers, wrists, and even up to the elbow.


Regular and prolonged use of smartphones or tablets can contribute to the development of repetitive strain injuries and joint problems. It is important to be aware of the potential issues associated with smartphone usage and when one should resort to orthopedic physical therapy. Here's what you need to know.


Strain Injuries
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The Influence Of Technology


Engaging in regular texting, scrolling, and button-pushing activities requires the use of fine motor skills, which can increase the risk of sprains, stiff joints, repetitive strain injuries, and issues in the neck or shoulders. These types of injuries have been given various names over the years, such as "Blackberry thumb," "gamer hands," and "tech neck."


Although the popularity of home computers and gaming consoles began to rise in the 1990s, the specific actions associated with smartphone usage are quite different from using phones primarily for calls. In today's world, the average person spends around five hours a day on their smartphone.


Repetitive Strain Injuries Associated With Smartphone Usage


Engaging in these activities over an extended period can lead to discomfort and stiffness in the hands, fingers, and wrists, as well as symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and issues in the back, neck, and shoulders. The most common form of pain arises in the wrist, often due to inflammation of a tendon, and may call for outpatient occupational therapy.


Frequent repetitive strain injuries related to smartphone use include:


Smartphone Pinky: This condition causes the pinky finger to appear separated from the other fingers, creating a noticeable gap next to the ring finger. It can also result in a bump caused by the way the phone is supported.


Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: Also referred to as "smartphone elbow," this syndrome occurs when pressure is placed on the ulnar nerve from repeatedly holding the arm at an angle. Along with pain, the fingers may become contracted or bent, leading to a condition known as "text claw." This injury is often caused by sitting in a slouched position while holding a phone or tablet.


Texting Thumb: This overuse injury inflames the synovium or tissue surrounding the tendons that travel from the wrist to the thumb. It can cause pain and stiffness in the joint and potentially accelerate the progression of arthritis.


Tech or Text Neck: This condition is related to poor posture while sitting and holding a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Many individuals hunch over, shifting weight away from the core and towards the head, neck, and shoulders. Symptoms may include increased neck pain, muscle spasms, or even a slipped disc.


Actions You Can Take


Before resorting to orthopedic physical therapy or surgery for any of the aforementioned conditions, here are some steps you can take:


1. Prioritize Ergonomics: When using a computer, ensure that the screen is at eye level and keep your feet flat on the ground. For smartphones and tablets, maintain straight wrists and elbows while supporting the device from the sides. When texting, try placing the device on a flat and stable surface and use your fingers, rather than your thumbs, to type and play games.


2. Incorporate Stretching: Regular stretching helps elongate the muscles, enhances your range of motion, and provides a much-needed break for your hands, fingers, wrists, and arms. Utilize a resistance band to stretch your hands and wrists forward and backward. Additionally, make it a habit to stand up, move around, adjust your posture, and stretch periodically.


3. Relieve Pain: Apply hot or cold packs to reduce inflammation or massage the affected area to alleviate muscle knots. If the pain originates from your thumb, consider texting and engaging in games using other fingers or switching hands altogether.


4. Give Your Hands a Rest: Take advantage of the hands-free features available on your phone to minimize repetitive movements and lower the risk of strain injuries.


5. Recognize When to Seek Assistance: If you experience persistent numbness, tingling, stiffness, or cramping that doesn't subside even after discontinuing device usage, it may indicate a repetitive strain injury, carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome, nerve damage, tendonitis, or arthritis. In such cases, consulting a physical therapist or opting for outpatient physical therapy is advisable.


Protect Your Well-being: Take Action Today!


The widespread use of smartphones has brought convenience and connectivity to our fingertips. However, it's important to be mindful of the potential risks associated with repetitive smartphone usage. Take care of your well-being and reach out to A Plus Care LA for expert occupational and orthopedic physical therapy services. Prioritize your health and make the right choices for a pain-free future.


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