Mobile devices are becoming a real pain in the neck, the hand, elbow and the wrist. Average daily use for adults according to several digital analytics firms is close to four hours on smartphone. That amounts to a lot of looking down while in a bad posture, holding an awkward device, all while engaged in repetitive hand and finger movements which can lead to pain, stiffness and for some people, chronic overuse symptoms.
An increasing number of people are seeking orthopaedic help for finger, hand, and elbow pain as a result. Orthopaedic hand specialists say that overuse of hand-held devices can lead to unintended problems involving not just the hand, but also the wrist and arm.
The thumbs and wrists take the brunt of the pain when people use their smartphones excessively. For example, repetitive typing and swiping can lead to irritation and swelling of the thumb flexor tendon. Eventually this can develop into painful popping or locking of the thumb, a condition called “trigger thumb.” As the size of smartphones increase, holding onto them while texting puts the wrist into an awkward position for a prolonged period of time. This can result in irritated wrist and forearm tendons and may lead to a painful condition known as DeQuervain’s tendonitis. This type of wrist tendonitis has historically appeared more often in young mothers whose hands are in high demand while caring for their newborns.
Mobile device users with pre-existing arthritis are particularly susceptible to increased pain and swelling when the thumb basilar joint is over-worked, something that can occur with frequent texting. Soreness in the arm, shoulder, or neck are symptoms that are also showing up is greater frequency in patients using a mobile device improperly. Looking down at the smartphone for hours every day with poor posture can strain the muscles of the shoulders and neck.
Diagnosing Wrist & Hand Repetitive Use Injuries
The most common repetitive overuse injury in the hand and wrist is tendinitis. This condition occurs when a tendon—a cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones—becomes inflamed as a result of irritation or stress. Swelling of the surrounding soft tissue is also common, along with tenderness and pain. Symptoms tend to worsen during and after physical activity, and they may worsen over time.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis happens with the tendons that run from the wrist to the thumb become irritated. These tendons are encased in narrow tunnel-like tissue called a sheath. Repetitive movements of the thumb and wrist, as well as a direct blow to the area, may irritate these tendons and cause them to swell, hindering their movement through the sheath, causing pain.
Stenosing tenosynovitis is commonly known as “trigger finger,” because it can cause a finger to become stuck in a bent position. Flexor tendons, which are located on the palm side of the hand, allow the finger to bend and flex. They are enclosed in a protective covering called a synovial sheath, which produces a fluid that keeps the tendons lubricated, allowing them to slide easily through the sheath.
When stress is placed on the fingers as with frequent texting and swiping—the tendons may swell. Inflammation may also cause the sheath to constrict. The tendons natural movement becomes impeded, leading to slower and sometimes painful bending and flexing of the fingers.
People with mild stenosing tenosynovitis may feel a painful popping sensation when they straighten their fingers. If the condition is more severe, one finger can become stuck in a bent position. Stenosing tenosynovitis often leads to finger or thumb stiffness, pain, and swelling. Swollen tendons can also cause a small lump or nodule to develop where the palm meets the affected finger.
Joints are surrounded by bands of tough, fibrous connective tissue called ligaments that form a capsule around the joints and allow them to function properly. Capsulitis occurs when this capsule becomes inflamed. Capsulitis can actually occur in any joint in the body. When the thumb is overused, inflammation can occur in its joints, causing pain and stiffness. This condition is more frequently referred to as “texting thumb,” because texting has become a leading cause of capsulitis in this part of the body.
Treating Texting Overuse Symptoms
Changes in behavior is the best treatment for these types of overuse symptoms. Hours spent typing hundreds of text messages every day is not an activity that human hands were designed to perform. Patients who reduce texting time, work to improve upper body posture, and find better ways to hold and use mobile devices find relief from many of these symptoms. However, when symptoms are not improved with changes in behavior accompanied by rest, then treatments including splints, medications, hand therapy, and cortisone injections are available. These days it is difficult to live without a smartphone, but it is important to be aware of the potential for overuse problems and make changes before symptoms become chronic.
If hand and wrist overuse issues do not get better with nonsurgical treatment, you may wish to consider surgery. The decision for surgery is based on how much pain or loss of function there is in the hand or wrist.
Story Source: Ortho News – AAOS
SRO’s Hand Center specialists provide the most up-to-date, medically appropriate treatment. In combination with our certified hand therapists and medical staff, our physicians offer exceptional quality, in both surgical and non-surgical evaluation and treatment. Learn more about the Hand Center, call us at (707) 546-1922 or Request an Appointment now.