Cleveland Physical Therapy Associates speaks on text thumb, an actual condition arising from too much smartphone use

Smartphone use is everywhere, and practically unavoidable. On the bus, in the waiting room, at the sporting game, and just about anywhere else you could possibly imagine. It seems that the better they get, the more people seem to rely on them, and this process is likely to only continue. But did you know: aside from the fact that the nausea some people experience from seeing their excessive use, our obsession with smartphones can also lead to a medical condition called text thumb.

Whether you’ve heard of the term or not, if you happen to spend a large portion of your free time texting and typing away on a mobile device, you should be no stranger to text thumb. Most people who develop text thumb experience feelings of pain, soreness and sometimes cramping, primarily in their thumbs, but it can also radiate outwards to the elbow, wrist and forearm as they are all connected.

The problem is that our thumbs are designed for gripping and grasping objects, not for repeatedly pounding on a screen to send texts or play games for countless hours every day. For this reason, text thumb is classified as a repetitive stress injury, which can arise from performing any activity—like making espresso, flipping burgers or turning a screwdriver—over and over for an extended period of time.

In the case of text thumb, the repetitive, demanding motion of texting places too much stress on the ligaments and muscles in the thumb and surrounding area, which can lead to irritation. This can go on to negatively affect grip strength and range of motion, and in cases that aren’t treated properly, can eventually cause long-term damage and even tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon).

Eliminating all texting at all times is an unrealistic request, but there are some basic steps you can take to prevent and treat text thumb before it gets out of control:

  • Increase your phone’s sensitivity setting so you don’t have to type so hard
  • Significantly reduce or eliminate playing games from your daily usage
  • Keep texting to a minimal: send short texts, use autocorrect and make phone calls or send e-mails for conversations with multiple exchanges
  • If you do experience pain for a week or less, apply ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes; for lasting pain, apply heat with a hot towel or pad
  • Don’t grip your phone too hard while texting or during any other use
  • Stretch out your fingers, arms and wrist on a regular basis, especially if they’re feeling sore; you can easily use one hand to stretch the other back and forth or a stress ball to stretch and strengthen hand and wrist muscles
  • Maintain good posture, especially in the neck, which can impact the wrists
  • See a physical therapist for additional stretching and massage, which will improve flexibility and reduce discomfort in the affected area

You may not realize it, but too much smartphone use can actually be hazardous to your health. For any text-related pain or soreness, Cleveland Physical Therapy Associates can help. Call 704-471-0001 to learn more or to schedule an appointment at either or our two locations in Shelby or Kings Mountain, NC.