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Smartphone-related hand injuries and how to reduce them

Hamaza Butt

Repeated use of anything can cause wear and tear including your smartphone. Continued scrolling and tapping can wear down the tendons in your hand and wrist causing injury. Repetitive use injuries are common in older adults but health professionals are seeing injury in younger patients as the age smartphone use decreases. 

Dr. Daniel Polatsch, an orthopedic hand surgeon and co-director of the New York Hand and Wrist Center of Lenox Hill, joins us this week to discuss how extended use of smartphones can cause injury and how to reduce the risk of it.

Types of injury seen

Trigger finger and tendonitis are two of the more common injuries related to overusing your hands. This is usually common in people who spend long hours typing at the computer all day but Polatsch is seeing more patients come in with these injuries due to smartphone use.

“It can develop into something called a trigger finger or trigger thumb which is actually the proper name,” said Polatsch.

Smartphone use can cause injury to your wrist as well. The tendons that connect to your thumb in your wrist can also inflame and you could develop carpal tunnel syndrome as well.

“We’ve also seen carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of overuse because when you’re texting you are generally holding your wrists flexed and your elbows bent and that can exacerbate a carpal tunnel type picture,” said Polatsch.

While overuse injury of the hand and wrist has been around for a long time, the age of people suffering has decreased. Polatsch is seeing younger patients coming in with hand problems.

“I think the ones are glaringly obvious are the young teens coming in now with hand complaints which normally you wouldn’t see because it’s typically someone who come in whose a little bit older that has these complaints,” said Polatsch.

Ways to reduce injury

Reducing the time spent using your smartphone is a way to prevent serious injury. While the larger the smartphone is the heavier it will be, larger phones could actually cause less stress on your tendons while scrolling or texting.

“The larger the phone probably better for the fingers because your fingers are spread out and don’t require extreme flexion to type. The catch of that is the larger the device the heavier it is and now you’re carrying this additional weight,” said Polatsch.

Other ways to reduce the repetitive movements associated with using your phone are:

  • Voice text
  • Turn the phone horizontal
  • Use index fingers to type
  • Take breaks
  • Place the phone on desk/table to text with fingers

“Like anything else, we tell our patients or family members it just has to be in moderation,” says Polatsch. "You want to practice the best ergonomic way you can so with your wrists as straight as possible with your elbows not extremely flexed as if you’re holding the phone right up to your face.”