Smartphone Injuries Can Be Serious & This is How to Prevent Them

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Iím certain by now we have all come to the conclusion that we are not going to stop using smartphones. Unless there is some new unforeseen technology on the horizon our fingers will continue to text, snap, and search day after day.

Not only have smartphones changed the way we communicate and operate as a society, they have also affected our health, both good and bad. As physical therapists, we see the impact of continued use of smart devices. Now that the technology has been around for a while, and the user age has dropped drastically, we see more conditions caused by the effects of overuse or improper posture while using these devices.

If you are like me, the very thought of losing my iPhone makes me weak in the knees. I mean - my entire life is on that phone, right? So in the spirit of prevention, letís talk about some of the most common injuries we see and how to prevent Candy Crush Saga from causing permanent pain in your future.

Tech Neck

More commonly recognized by Physical Therapists and Physicians as neck and lower back pain. This is probably one of the most common ailments we see as physical therapists. Now we arenít going to blame all neck and back pain on smart phone use, but in many cases it can be the cause or one of the causes of some pretty debilitating pain. The issue is simple, when we use our smartphones, we have a serious tendency to tilt our head forward and slouch, slump, or hunch over our devices. The further we tilt our head the more pressure we put on our neck. At a 60 degree angle, your 10 to 12 pound head is actually putting 60 pounds of pressure on your neck or cervical spine. And, if we are being honest about how frequently we actually use our smartphones that can add up to hundreds of hours of excessive strain a year on our bodies.

The fix: This one is mainly about posture and placement. Be sure you keep your chin up and in and your shoulders back. Be sure to take a breather every now and then, roll your shoulders and neck, give yourself a good stretch, and consider standing up and walking around if you have been glued to your screen for too long. Keep your smartphone at eye level, and use a stand for larger phones or tablets because as we will discuss shortly, holding devices for lengthy periods of time presents an entirely different set of issues.

Text Claw & Texting Thumb

Letís be clear that Text Claw is not a medical diagnosis and is considered a repetitive strain injury in medical terms, but it is a situation that can actually lead to some pretty serious conditions if not treated properly. Text Claw typically refers to pain in the wrist or hand from constant use. The pain typically stems from pain in the tendons or muscles and can lead to things like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome causing more serious pain, aching, numbness and even loss of strength.

Also known as Gamers Thumb, Texting Thumb is also a repetitive stress injury similar to Text Claw but mainly effects the thumb to the wrist. The reality is that our thumbs were built for gripping things, and the way we use our thumbs with smartphones puts repetitive stress on our thumb joints, tendons, and muscles. Believe or not, it isnít so much the typing and tapping, but the movement across the screen that causes the issue. We just were not designed for that. Left untreated, Texting Thumb can lead to conditions like trigger thumb (painful popping when the thumb bends or straightens) and thumb arthritis.

The fix: The best medicine here is to rest your hands. If less use is not an option for you take advantage of the hands free options whenever possible, and at least take a break every now and then. Stretching and massaging your hands, thumbs, and wrists will help as well. Anti-inflammatories can make a difference, but if you prefer to opt for a more natural form of pain relief, try ice for 10-15 minutes a couple times a day and consider using a wrist brace. You can purchase these at most pharmacies, or we can help you at Mid America Rehab with a custom fitted brace if needed.

Cell Phone Elbow

Known to Physical Therapists and Physicians as Cubical Tunnel Syndrome, the condition effects your forearm and elbow and is the second most common nerve compression syndrome of the upper extremities after Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which effects the wrist and hands. If you are experiencing pain, tingling or numbness that runs up the outside edge of your arm, you could be suffering from compression of the ulnar nerve. Why does this happen you ask? Well, when we hold our phones for a nice long chat, or event to get lost in Facebook, we hold our elbow in a flexed position for a prolonged period of time. This puts tension on the ulnar nerve that runs from your shoulder to your wrist. The nerve runs through what is known as the cubital tunnel in the elbow. When you flex it significantly increases the pressure within the tunnel, which decreases blood flow, which can damage the nerve.

The fix: Make sure you switch hands often when on long calls, use the hands-free options when possible, and try to minimize the amount of time you flex your arm. Stretching your forearms will help as well. Most of these suggestions are preventative, if you are already experiencing a lot of the symptoms mentioned above, itís a good idea to visit your Physical Therapist or Physician to be evaluated.

Although technology in so many ways has made our lives easier, there is no doubt that these technical marvels have forced us to use our bodies in very different ways. As medical professionals we have seen a real change in the types of injuries we see in our patients. The good news is we are here to help, and there are things you can do to stay healthy and pain free. For more information or a free screening contact Mid America Rehab by calling the clinic near you, visit us on Facebook, or email us anytime at info@midamericarehab.com.