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Avoid these 8 common smartphone overuse injuries

Text neck, gamer’s thumb and smartphone pinky—while these aren’t official medical diagnoses, physicians are seeing an increase in smartphone injuries thanks to the prolific use of digital devices. Pratik Thaker, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician, says the most common tech-related health problems include:

  1. Text neck: Text neck occurs when you hold your phone at waist- or chest-level for extended periods of time. When your head is bent, it places a significant amount of pressure and stress on the neck. This type of overuse injury can lead to shortened, tighter neck muscles, rounded shoulders, and neck and shoulder pain.

  2. Texting thumb/smartphone thumb/gamer’s thumb: While this isn’t a true medical diagnosis, this repetitive stress tendon injury can occur if you overuse your thumb joint while swiping, typing or gaming.

  3. Text claw: This presents as cramping or pain in the fingers from gripping a device for long periods of time.

  4. Trigger finger: This occurs from a repetitive movement like gripping, pinching or holding a phone too tightly. It causes the flexor tendon to become inflamed or thickened, which can cause the finger to become bent.

  5. Cubital tunnel syndrome: This injury can occur when the elbow is bent for prolonged periods of time, such as while holding a phone, using a computer mouse, typing or propping your elbow on a desk.

  6. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: This condition occurs when the two tendons between the thumb and wrist become inflamed and painful.  

  7. Smartphone pinky: Smartphone pinky occurs when you repeatedly rest your phone on your pinky while holding a device, leading to an indentation in the skin on your finger.  

  8. Distraction-related injuries: Physicians also see patients who get injured because they are distracted and walk into an object, trip or fall.

Symptoms of technology-related injuries

Symptoms of tech-related injuries include:

  • Pain in your neck, shoulders, back, wrist, fingers, thumb or elbow

  • Popping or snapping in your thumb when you bend or straighten it

  • One thumb that’s larger than the other

  • Numbness or tingling in your arm, hand or fingers

  • Poor posture

How to avoid technology-related injuries

Dr. Thaker recommends the following tips to reduce your chance of a tech-related injury:

  • Use both hands to hold your device.

  • Place your device on a stand while using it.

  • Hold your device at eye level to avoid looking down for long periods of time.

  • Use voice text and voice notes.

  • Call someone instead of texting or emailing.

  • Use all of your fingers when typing.

  • Never text and drive.

  • Attach a collapsible phone grip to help you hold your device.

  • Limit the amount of time you spend on your device and take breaks to stand, stretch and walk around.

Treatment for technology-related injuries

“Most injuries improve with lifestyle changes, like resting and taking breaks from using the device,” says Dr. Thaker. “If that doesn’t work, try taking ibuprofen or naproxen. If over-the-counter medication doesn’t help, we may try a steroid injection, brace or occupational therapy, depending on the injury.”

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