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Smartphone, tablets and other handheld devices

Are you texting your way to tendonitis?

Smartphone, tablets and other handheld devices are so versatile it can be hard to put them down. But spend too much time scrolling, tapping and typing, and you could be setting yourself up for tendonitis, a painful condition caused by overusing the hands, fingers and wrists.

Virginia Jones, M.D., a hand and orthopaedic surgeon at Piedmont, is seeing a rise in patients with tendonitis in the wrist and fingers. She attributes many of these cases to bad tablet and smartphone habits.

What is tendonitis?

Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons that connect muscles to bones, which can then lead to pain, swelling, and limited use of the hand or wrist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tendonitis causes more than 70,000 people to miss work every year, but the problem doesn’t stop there. With the increase in device use among children and teens, more young people are susceptible to problems with the arms, hands and wrists.

“I have definitely seen an increase in patients coming to me with tendonitis,” says Dr. Jones. “Avid readers who are now holding tablets to read for prolonged periods of time and teens addicted to texting, using just their thumbs, are experiencing fatigue in their hand muscles like never before. It is the sheer volume of these repetitive motions that are leading to the onset of tendonitis.”

How to prevent tendonitis in the fingers and wrists

Dr. Jones stresses the importance of putting down your device throughout the day.

“The overuse of electronics is presenting a variety of health problems people did not consider in the past. Hand health is so important in everyday tasks. It should not be compromised for the sake of socializing on a device,” Dr. Jones says.

To avoid overstraining your hands while using hand-held devices, consider these tips:

  • Switch the hand you use to hold your device.
  • Take frequent breaks and avoid periods of prolonged use.
  • Place your device on a tabletop so you don't have to hold it while you type.
  • Use voice-activated messaging whenever possible.
  • If you feel pain, give your smartphone or table a break. Pain could indicate inflammation.

Treatment options for tendonitis

If you do develop tendonitis in your fingers or wrists, try the following:

  • Rest. Take a break from using your device.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen.

If your injury doesn't respond to at-home treatment, see your physician. He or she may recommend the following:

  • Wrist brace
  • Steroid injections
  • Surgery

“It is important to see a doctor as soon as you experience pain, stiffness and/or swelling in your hands, fingers or wrists,” Dr. Jones says. “The sooner you realize you are overstraining your hand muscles and take steps to rest them, the faster you will recover and the higher probability of avoiding surgery.”

For more information on bone, muscle and joint health, click here.

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