Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives.
We use them to check the time, order a meal, check social media, read the latest news or text a friend. On average, Americans spend about three hours a day on their phones.
And while that all seems simple and routine enough, our fingers — especially our thumbs — can become overtaxed by the workout of holding the phone and pecking away at the keys.
For some, that repetitive motion can lead to a condition that is now commonly known as texting or text thumb — a nod to the popular use of cell phones.
The condition — where the base of the thumb swells or becomes inflamed from repetitive motion causing it to become stiff — was around long before cell phones became a part of everyday living.
“Previously it might have been caused by doing a lot of needle work or typing,” says Joanne Labriola, M.D., an independent orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff of Edward and Elmhurst Hospitals. “It’s not that this did not exist before, it was just called something else.
“It can affect anyone, but it is more common in adults and risk increases with age,” says Dr. Labriola, who specializes in hand and microvascular surgery.
While it is not a clearly defined condition, texting thumb typically refers to one of two conditions:
In cases of trigger finger or arthritis, Dr. Labriola also recommends resting the hand. If you use your phone often or if you’re at the computer typing a good portion of your day, give your hands a rest and do some exercises by opening and closing your hands.
If your thumb hurts, try gently rotating it to help loosen it up. Also consider using the settings on your smart phone or electronic device to set alerts to help keep usage in check and give your hands a break.
Seeking treatment early can be key in the success of less invasive procedures, such as the steroid injections. Dr. Labriola recommends seeing your doctor if you have pain or a catching or locking in your fingers that persist more than a couple of weeks and interferes with your daily activities.
“You want to start treatment before you have any stiffness in your finger,” she says, adding that while treatment can be effective later, recovery may be longer once you develop stiffness in your finger.
Learn more about orthopedic services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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