Most can agree that during the last few years, and especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cell phones have become our best friends. New surveys show that the coronavirus pandemic has increased device usage, with 70 percent of responding internet users worldwide claiming that they are using their smartphones or mobile phones more as a direct result of the outbreak. From communicating afar via text message with family and friends to shifting to working remotely, cell phones have become an even more integral part of our daily lives. Smartphone usage statistics suggest that an average person spends 2 hours and 51 minutes per day on their mobile device, and this shows in the increase of chronic pain.
While smartphones substantially increase our communication abilities, it can also cause a series of physical ailments such as chronic pain, stress injuries, inflammation, tendonitis, incorrect posture, and more. The most common issues that arise from the overuse of cell phones is ‘texting neck’ or ‘texting thumb’. These stress injuries are caused by excessive use of mobile devices over time and can be detrimental to one’s productivity levels. Text neck is often caused by the prolonged use of texting with the head bent downward and not moving. Text neck is commonly associated with texting, but it can be related to many activities performed on phones and tablets such as surfing the web, playing games, or working on the computer. A texting neck injury can cause pain in the upper neck, back and shoulders, rounded shoulders and incorrect posture leading to improper curvature of the spine, reduced mobility, headaches, nerve irritation and can lead to radiculopathy which causes numbness, tingling, pain radiation, and many more symptoms. Texting neck can be efficiently managed by physical therapy including mobilization, posture correction, massage of soft tissues, taping techniques, and neck stabilization exercises.
Texting thumb or thumb tendonitis, is a condition where the tendons of the thumb get inflamed from an overuse injury. One of the biggest reasons is the larger sizes of the smartphone which makes it difficult for the thumb to reach the other end of the keypads. Not only the thumb, but even the wrist may get affected by the heavy weights of the smartphones. According to Dr. Meredith Osterman of The Philadelphia Hand Center’s conversation with TODAY, there has been a significant rise in the number of people with hand and thumb pain, majorly due to this constant clutching and pecking of smartphones. Lynnette Khoo-Summers, a physical therapist and associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine indicates a possibility of arthritis in later stages.
With cell phones playing a role in nearly every aspect of our life including organizing and scheduling our daily lives, staying connected to the world, taking notes, e-mail, browsing and more, it is easy to understand how difficult it is to stay without a cell phone. Here are some simple ways to manage and decrease the pain:
Avoid overuse as much as possible. Put down the phone for a few hours on a regular basis.
Hold your phone so that the screen is at eye level.
Stand up straight and maintain good posture.
Use both hands for cradling the phone.
Use ice in case of inflammation or severe pain
Utilize the “text-to-speech” feature on the phones to avoid typing
Exercise and stretching is also important when managing pain. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, healthy, and increases flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles and is a great way to relieve stress. Stretching and supporting the mobility of the neck and the thumb can be done at your workstation:
Chin-tuck: Tuck your chin down to your chest, then slowly tilt your head back, chin towards the ceiling.
Neck-rolls: Slowly rotate neck in both directions.
Shoulder rotation: Shrug your shoulders and rotate them. Rotate 10 times each clockwise and anticlockwise. Consider this as one set and repeat it 5 times.
Stretch and rotate the thumb, wrist, and forearm tendons and muscles anatomically after prolonged use.
Technology is great and has made life easier, but as we know, nothing in ‘excess’ is good. Luckily, smartphones are now coming with technological advancements that will significantly ease out the undue stress on the thumb tendons. The latest iOS 11 has “ONE-HANDED KEYBOARD” that prevents the thumb from overstretching to type. Some of the phones offer the use of a stylus which is another good answer to this problem. If these options do not help with pain, consider talking to your physician or your physical therapist. It’s good to make use of technology to the max, but your health is in your hands. Give your hands and your neck some rest.
Dr. Ashok Gupta
Dr. Ashok Gupta is the COO of TheraNow. He has had a very versatile professional career of over 15 years and has held various responsibilities
as a doctor of physical therapy, a health expert, and an entrepreneur. His vision and leadership have helped TheraNow in achieving a new summit in the field of TeleHealth and TeleRehab in the US Healthcare System. He heads the company’s on-shore and off-shore teams of IT and health professionals. Ashok’s efforts have led TheraNow to achieve a strong customer base and valuations in such a short time.
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