As a nation of smartphone users, we’ve become reliant on our pocket PCs to check email on the go, look up recipe ingredients in the grocery store, help us locate directions, and a thousand other things we didn’t even know we needed to do. Unfortunately, our little digits were meant to text and scroll for hours at a time.
Now, doctors and orthopedic surgeons are seeing more patients than ever who are complaining of repetitive motion injuries associated with smartphone and other handheld device use.
A case of WhatsAppItis
In Mexico, a pregnant woman came in to see her doctor after she woke up with shooting pains in both wrists. While she was giving her medical history, the woman reported that a few days prior, she’d used her smartphone for six continuous hours sending text messages to family and friends using the WhatsApp messaging app. The patient was officially diagnosed with tenosynovitis (inflammation of the synovium surrounding the tendon), and told to stay off her cell phone. While giving an interview to The Lancet, Dr. Fernandez-Guerrero, of Granada’s General University hospital coined the injury, “WhatsAppItis.”
Thumb injuries on the rise
Rapid fire texting and typing is taking a toll on our thumbs. Doctors believe thumb injuries are high because these nubby digits are not as dexterous as our fingers, so we have to press harder. While doctors recommend limiting cell phone use to give thumbs a break, the O2 company thinks we just need to toughen them up with “thumbbells (dumbbells for thumbs).
TextNeck can be avoided
Hunching over our handheld devices and poking away at the keys isn’t just affecting fingers and thumbs, it’s wreaking havoc on our neck muscles too. Coined and trademarked by Florida chiropractor Dean L. Fishman, “TextNeck,” refers to the inflammation and pain felt in the back of the neck after looking down at smartphones and other handheld devices for hours. The pain is caused by strain on soft tissue, muscles and joints of the neck shoulders and back.
Experts offer a common sense solution
Dr. Gus Gialamas, MD, an orthopedic surgeon from California who treats repetitive injuries has the following advice, “Use common sense. Whenever you are doing something repetitively that seems to be causing your neck, back, wrist, or thumbs pain—you stop doing that activity. You rest. That’s the mainstay of treatment. You can also try icing to diminish the inflammatory process – but the gold standard is to rest.”