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June 20th, 2017

Smartphone Thumb Is Nothing to Thumb Your Nose At

By In the Loop

You’ve heard of tennis elbow and swimmer’s shoulder. But how about smartphone thumb? It’s something doctors are seeing more of as people spend more of their time texting.

You’ve heard of tennis elbow and swimmer’s shoulder. But how about smartphone thumb? It’s something doctors are seeing more of as people spend more of their time texting. And it could lead to other issues down the road. 


It starts harmlessly enough. A "C U in 5" here, an "LOL" there. But soon, you're texting almost as much as you're talking. And that can take a toll on the hardest working digit in your arsenal: your thumb, the trusty appendage that's tasked with all that typing. Doctors at Mayo Clinic say the "repetitive motion appears to be leading to cases of tendinitis," reports WCCO-TV. Which can be a real, well, pain.

It's a type of pain that has long plagued athletes in sports that overtax a particular joint (think tennis elbow or swimmer's shoulder). When doctors began seeing tendonitis in the thumbs of people getting a much less demanding workout — texting — ­ they dubbed the condition "smartphone thumb."

"One of the hypotheses is that … the joints get loose and lax, and because of that, the bones kind of move differently than they would in a normal situation," Kristin Zhao, Ph.D., tells the station. Dr. Zhao, a biomedical engineer at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus and part of a team investigating the condition, says the positioning and movements required to text put our thumbs in an awkward position.

According to the station, back in 2010, Dr. Zhao and her colleagues used "a dynamic imaging technique" to "watch the bones of a healthy patient move, so they could document what's normal and compare it with what's not." Texting, the team now believes, creates an "abnormal motion of bones in the thumb" that causes pain and may even eventually lead to something more serious. "There is a high incidence of osteoarthritis in the thumb," Dr. Zhao tells the station. And she and her colleagues "want to make sure we aren't encouraging that onset by our daily activities." (Two thumbs up to that.)

To keep your thumbs moving, grooving and pain free, give them a break from texting, say doctors. "Mix up your method by using your forefinger to peck the screen, or use your voice to dictate your message," the station suggests. And you can try exercises like these to stretch your tendons and help keep them limber.

If none of that works, consider kicking it old school and using your phone to do that other "t" word: talking.

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Tags: Dr. Kristin Zhao, Health and Wellness, Tendinitis

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