Cell phones are an indispensible tool in today’s society. A lot of us feel naked without our phones in plain sight. However, there are some health concerns associated with these tiny pieces of technology that you might not think of.
We have all heard things about the way our phones affect our bodies. However, there is a casualty of everyday cell phone use that we tend to overlook – our fingers. We can spend hours with a phone in our grasp, whether we are talking or texting, and not think twice about what it is doing to our hands. Some of the most common conditions caused by too much cell phone use are trigger finger and “text thumbs.”
The Mayo Clinic defines trigger finger as “a condition in which one of your fingers or thumb catches in a bent position. Your finger or thumb may straighten with a snap – like a trigger being pulled and released.” This sometimes-painful condition is caused by overuse and overdevelopment of the flexor tendons, or the tendons used to curl our fingers. Holding your cell phone all day can cause this. The tendons then develop scar tissue that builds up and catches on the tendon sheath, making it difficult to straighten out the affected fingers. Symptoms often begin with a swelling sensation and a popping or snapping when you bend and relax your fingers. More acute cases can cause the fingers to lock so firmly that you have to use your opposite hand to straighten them. These cases are usually accompanied by pain that makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks. When left untreated, this condition can cause permanent damage to the tendons and tendon sheaths. It is important to see a doctor if you begin having these symptoms. Typically, treatment begins with rest and discontinuation of the activity that caused the symptoms in the first place. Stretches are usually enough to cure most cases, but sometimes surgery can be necessary for extreme situations.
Another common injury associated with cell phones is called texting tenosynovitis, or “text thumb”. As the name implies, this is associated with texting for extended periods of time. Texting causes to use our thumbs in an unnatural way; they were meant to help us grip and grasp things, not type. Considering that some people can type up to 40 words per minute on their Blackberry, this puts our thumbs at risk for injury. Text thumb is really a technologically enhanced case of repetitive strain injury. The nerves get irritated and inflamed, and the thumbs begin to hurt. Some dedicated texters can even develop de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which causes pain along the side of the wrist at the base of the thumb. Treatment for this condition is similar to that of any overuse condition – rest, ice packs, anti-inflammatories, and in some severe cases, cortisone injections.
The best treatment for both of these conditions, however, is to prevent them in the first place. Try to make sure and stretch your hands throughout the day. Don’t always use the same hand to hold your phone – switch between the two throughout the day. If you are texting and your thumbs begin to get sore, stop texting and call instead. And don’t fall for the various thumb splints on the market that claim to alleviate texting thumb, because they often make the problem worse. While we may not be able to use our phones less, we can lessen the impact our phones have on our fingers.