June 15, 2018 | Staff
If you are like the average smartphone user, your phone is in your hands for hours each day, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed, with little down time in between. The frequent use of smartphones can lead to debilitating hand pain for those who clutch the phone or type for several hours at a time.
Phones have evolved from the large rotary style to portable computers that remain in our hands for most of the day. However, the human hand has yet to evolve to match the shape of the device. Holding your smartphone the wrong way can lead to a common injury often referred to as "texting thumb" or "trigger thumb", a repetitive stress injury, which is formally known as stenosing tenosynovitis. More serious problems such as tendinitis and sore muscles around your arm are also common with smartphone use.
We have pretty much mastered the ergonomically correct desktop computer, wrist support and office chair. Unfortunately, it is hard to use tablets in the same way you would use a computer but the risks of injury are the same: repeated motion and unnatural postures can cause injury. The problem with smartphones and tablets, aside from the fact that we are constantly on them, is there are literally millions of positions you can use them in and most of them are not good for your body.
First, you will want to minimize the strain on your wrists since this is the body part that is affected with the most with constant texting and swiping at your phone. Start by straightening out your wrists as much as possible by playing with your phone holding technique. Holding your smartphone at the sides and texting with both thumbs is stressful on your wrists. Try placing your phone on a table while texting, or hold the phone in one hand and text with the other in a "hunt and peck" style of typing.
Next, make sure you keep your elbow straight to keep healthy blood flow to your fingers. If you are bending your elbows and pulling your phone closer to your face due to vision problems, be sure you are wearing the proper prescription glasses to help you see the screen clearly without bringing your phone closer to your face.
Finally, the base of your thumb is vulnerable and constrained to the general position of your hand since this is the most commonly used digit when typing and texting. Avoid unnatural movements of the wrist that will put your fingers in an awkward position.
Smartphone overuse can cause wrist pain because the tendons that connect to the thumb can become inflamed at the wrist. Your elbow can also be affected if it is constantly bent while holding the phone. You may find that your condition has worsened to the point of needing surgery, but if your symptoms are relatively minor, these tips can help alleviate some of your hand pain.
1. Do "smartphone stretches"
Taking breaks from constant phone use is important. While you're taking these breaks, be sure to flex your wrist, hand tendons and muscles forward then backward to keep them flexible.
2. Apply hot or cold compress
Hot compresses will relax the tendons and muscles around your arm which allows for better movement. For acute pain that lasts for about one week, a cold compress can help better than heat because heat may result to swelling and more throbbing pain.
Massaging your hand can help break up the ball-like muscles and calm muscle spasms.
4. Give your thumb a rest
Your thumb is probably the most used appendage, which can eventually lead to thumb arthritis, tendinitis and contractures. To prevent "texting thumb", you should alternate using your other fingers for typing on the screen. A stylus pen can also help keep your wrist straight.
5. Use hands-free features on your phone
If you are experiencing hand pain but absolutely have to send a couple more text messages, switch on your phone to voice-to-text mode so you can give your strained fingers, hands and wrists some rest.
Unless numbness, tingling, cramping and stiffness continue after you put down your phone, you probably do not need to seek treatment. If you are still having symptoms when you are not using your phone, then it is likely time to seek the advice of a hand specialist who will be able to look at the symptoms and perform some tests to determine the extent of your injuries. You may have a repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or arthritis that can become irreversible and debilitating. Treatment for tendonitis, arthritis or nerve damage may include immobilization, medication or even surgery.
If you are experiencing hand pain from using smartphones for extended periods of time, making lifestyle adjustments, including lessening the time you spend on the phone and other handheld gadgets, can save you from years of pain.
We understand that in this day and age it is nearly impossible not to use a smartphone, but you should be spending no more than five hours, evenly distributed throughout your day, on your handheld devices. By following the above tips, you can significantly reduce your pain and lower the possibility of temporary or permanent hand damage.
If you are experiencing continuous hand or wrist paint from smartphone use, call us at (800) 698-1280 to learn more about the best options for you or to schedule an appointment with one of our hand specialists.