The advent of the modern touchscreen smartphone in the late 2000s changed how people interacted with technology. People no longer had to fumble around with tiny keys or even use a stylus — their fingers could do the work. It was a groundbreaking innovation that has made our lives easier in many ways, but there’s also a downside, specifically to hands and fingers.
The Average Time a Person Spends on Their Phone
There are over six billion smartphone subscriptions worldwide. That means billions of smartphone users have their hands on at least one device. In the United States alone, an average person spends four and a half hours on daily mobile media usage. This is no surprise, given how much we rely on our phones for everything from work to entertainment.
Apple and Samsung are the two leading smartphone vendors, with users maximizing every model’s capabilities. It’s said that iPhone users engage with their phones slightly more than those with Samsung’s, though usage for both is high. Smartphones have become people’s cameras, radios, TVs, and game consoles. We use them to stay in touch with our loved ones, do our shopping, and get directions when we’re lost. It’s not a stretch to say that smartphones have become an extension of our hands.
If you’re using your phone or other mobile devices for hours daily, however, your hands and fingers bear the brunt. You might not notice it at first, but all that typing, swiping, and tapping can lead to hand pain and even injury. Smartphones are lightweight, but even that little weight can add up.
While the effects of smartphones on your hands and fingers are often not that serious, it’s still best to learn about them. As smartphone use increases, so does the number of people suffering from smartphone-related pains.
What do Phones do to Hands and Fingers?
If you haven’t heard of the terms “text claw” and “cell phone elbow,” they are non-medical terms for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
It’s the cramping and aching of fingers and muscles because of smartphone overuse. When you keep your elbows constantly bent and feel numbness or tingling in your ring and pinky fingers, you’re experiencing text claw or cell phone elbow. While over use of your smart device does not cause carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome, the position of your hand and arm can worsen the symptoms.
How is your smartphone-related to the numbness or tingling in your hands and fingers? Isn’t it far-fetched to say that your mobile devices are the reason for your hand pain? Well, smartphones are designed to be used with a human hand. And when you use them for an extended period, your hands and fingers may feel the strain. These strains can lead to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Repetitive Stress Injury
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or Repetitive Stress Injury is an over use reaction to the tendons, muscles, and nerves because of a repetitive motion. You can relate this to even the tiniest daily actions, such as typing on a keyboard or using a mouse. It’s also a common injury for athletes who make the same motions over and over while training.
You increase your risk for RSI when you repeatedly stress the same muscles and maintain an awkward position for a long time. When you have RSI, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Tenderness or swelling
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
Some of these symptoms are present with constant phone usage. Why? Because you put your hands and wrists in specific positions when you text or scroll through your feed. You’re stressing the hand tendons, muscles, and nerves.
What Problems Can This Cause?
Any pain you’re experiencing, whether mild or severe, is already a problem. If you don’t address the pain early on, it might develop into a more serious condition. And, of course, It’s always best to prevent smartphone pains before they happen.
RSI because of smartphone use may lead to the following problems:
Any discomfort you feel in your wrist is classified as wrist pain. While it’s a typical result of an acute injury or arthritis and gout, it could also be a symptom of smartphone use RSI. Your wrists are delicate parts of your body. Wrist pain, especially if severe, can limit your range of motion. If mild, it’s not a significant cause for alarm, but it’s best to take action to avoid making it worse.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome are common types of RSI that happen when the nerve is compressed. The median nerve sends signals to your hand muscles. It also controls sensation in your thumb and the first three other fingers. With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you feel pain, tingling, and numbness in your fingers. You’ll also can have a hard time gripping or holding things.
The difference between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is anatomy. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome occurs with the ulnar nerve, which is behind the elbow and connects to your pinky and ring fingers. Cubital tunnel syndrome causes numbness in the small and ring fingers. It can also cause hand weakness and sometimes hand cramping.
Smartphone Finger Pain
When you use your fingers as you hold, swipe and tap on your smartphone, your bones, muscles, and tendons work together to make the motions possible. The tendons are tough and flexible cords of tissue that connect your muscles to your bones. They allow you to move your fingers and hands.
The problem occurs when you overuse these tendons and muscles. Smartphone finger, also called “smartphone finger” or “trigger finger” is when swelling develops in the finger resulting in pain, stiffness, clicking and locking of the finger.
Smartphone Hand Pain
Smartphone hand pain is when you overuse the hand tendons, muscles, and ligaments. The constant pressure can stress your muscles and cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in your hand. Hand pain can be difficult to ignore, especially when it’s impossible not to use your hands for daily activities.
Unrelated to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, smartphone thumb pain is when the tendons in your thumb are overused. Also called “texting tendonitis,” “trigger thumb,” or “texting thumb.” It’s more common for users of smartphones.
If you also play games on your smartphone, you’re at risk of developing a texting thumb. You might feel cramping in the fleshy area between your index finger and thumb, stiffness, and more throbbing pain.
What to do if You’re Experiencing Aches and Pains After Using Your Phone
It’s impossible to completely eliminate smartphone usage, but you can take steps to prevent smartphone pains. How do you use your phone without causing strain? Here are some tips:
Take a Break
If you can, don’t use your phone for extended periods. Take a break now and then to give yourself a rest from hand pain. You can also try to use your smartphone less often by limiting your screen time.
Change the Style of Your Phone
Check if you’re using a smartphone that’s too big or small for your hands. If your smartphone is too big, it won’t be easy to grip, and you must stretch your fingers to reach the buttons. If it’s too small, you will have to use your thumb more often, which can cause smartphone thumb.
The ergonomically correct size would be the one that allows you to use it comfortably without eventually leading to hand pain.
Practice Different Phone Holding Techniques
You can switch hands when you’re experiencing smartphone hand pain. You may also change how you hold your phone for better movement and to avoid unnatural movements.
Try to straighten your wrists as much as you can. You can also lay your phone down when typing or swiping instead of holding it. Keep your elbow straight to preserve healthy blood flow in your hands and fingers.
Do Some Stretching
When taking a break from phone use, do stretching exercises for your hands and fingers. Extend your fingers and rotate your wrists to improve blood circulation.
The “prayer position” stretch also works wonders in relieving your wrist and hand open-and-close and helps stretch the muscles in your fingers.
Massage Your Hands
Massaging is one of the easiest methods for relieving hand pain. Massaging your hands and fingers can relieve sore muscles. Gently rub your palms, fingers, and the base of your thumb. You can do this after taking a break from your smartphone or before going to bed.
Use a Hot or Cold Compress
Put a cold compress on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. You can do this several times a day. A hot compress relaxes your tendons and muscles, so use it to relieve stiffness. Alternating hot and cold compress can also be very helpful for muscle recovery.
Contact Academy Orthopedics
It’s undeniable how cell phones have evolved and become a necessary part of our lives. While we acknowledge just how much they’ve helped us, we also can’t ignore the potentially harmful effects they may have on our health.
If you feel acute pain and the above methods don’t work, perhaps it’s time to seek professional help. Academy Orthopedics and our board certified orthopedic hand surgeon is here to relieve you from smartphone-related aches. Seek treatment now by calling us at 770-271-9857 or sending in a new patient appointment request to firstname.lastname@example.org.