Tips to Avoid Smartphone Hand Pain
Hand pain can occur from typing work emails to browsing streaming services, you might find that your “screen time” includes much of your waking hours. The average person these days spends almost five hours a day on a mobile device, increasing the cases of trigger finger, texting thumb & carpal tunnel syndrome.
Phones have evolved over the years from big rotary dialers to hand-held computers, but the human body has yet to evolve the shape of the hand to match the device. Dr. Shuaib Kausar says, like most people, I use my phone every day for things like:
- My morning alarm
- Texting friends and family
- Checking emails
- Reading the news
- Checking sports scores
- Connecting on social media
- Listening to podcasts and music
- Taking photos
- Navigating around town
- Reading the latest blog (like you, if you are reading this on your phone), and yes,
- To make phone calls!
If your list is anywhere close to mine, it means your smartphone is in your hands for hours from the moment you wake up until you go to bed.
If you are even close to these average numbers, it is very likely that you might be experiencing some hand discomfort, whether it is in your thumb, wrist, or even your elbow. Smartphone overuse can cause wrist pain because tendons that connect to the thumb can become inflamed at the wrist. Your elbow can also be affected if it is constantly bent holding the phone. The fingers most impacted by holding a smartphone, tablet, or video game controller are your pinky and thumb.
Larger phones are most likely better for the fingers because the fingers have more space to spread out. But the catch is that the larger devices are heavier, so your hand has to support the extra weight which could cause the ‘smartphone pinky’. By extension, your wrists can also be impacted by the way you hold your phone.
A common injury I see tied to smartphone usage is texting thumb or trigger thumb (also trigger finger), which is a repetitive stress injury known as stenosing tenosynovitis. Nothing is dislocated or broken in the hand, and most of the time there isn’t much inflammation, but it can still annoy the person experiencing it.
Each hand is made of 27 bones, 35 muscles, and over 100 tendons connecting bones and muscles. Your flexor tendons bend your fingers, and tendons that straighten your fingers are called extensor tendons. Repetitive movements can tire these tendons out, resulting in wear and tear on the tendon as well as soreness and inflammation. This is called tendinitis.
I also see some patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist) or cubital tunnel syndrome (elbow) who believe it is due to smartphone use. While there is no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel syndrome, overuse of the related muscles could be a contributing factor. People with previous injuries may be at a higher risk as well.
Another smartphone injury becoming increasingly common with extra-large smartphones is the “smartphone pinky.” This is when the little finger becomes deformed or dented due to balancing the smartphone with the pinky on the bottom of the phone.
Tips for reducing hand pain
- Go hands-free
- Use a smartphone grip or a case that enables you to use your device without holding onto it. This can decrease the pressure on your thumb and your pinky. These accessories may hold your phone up for you or may simply allow you to hold your device without the use of your thumb or pinky.
- Get text-savvy
- You can also look into a stylus tool to use on your tablet, or employ talk-to-text features on your phone.
- There are lots of options that can decrease how often you actually have to employ your pinky and thumb when you’re using your devices.
- Stretch your fingers out
- Before you pick up your device, lace your fingers together and push out your arms so that your fingers get a full stretch in the opposite direction.
This kind of stretching can help:
- extend the range of motion of your tendons and joints
- alleviate stiffness
- get your fingers ready for the activity
- Plan for rest
- If you’re using your device for a sustained period of time, set an alarm to sound after you’ve been using it for an hour or so.
- Plan regular rest periods for your fingers to decrease the strain on your joints, tendons, eyes, and neck.
When to seek professional help
Some symptoms indicate that home remedies won’t be enough to treat your smartphone finger. Seek treatment if you experience any of the following:
- hand pain that lasts for 7 to 10 days, even after home remedies
- pain that is severe and keeps you from doing other activities
- recurrent numbness that doesn’t subside after a day off from smartphone use
In this day and age, it is nearly impossible not to use a mobile phone. But by following my nine tips you can reduce pain and possibly temporary or permanent hand damage due to that devilish device.
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