The Price We Pay For Tech

October 5, 2017

 

In past newsletters, I have discussed how technology affects our posture and is the culprit in many neck and back pain syndromes. 

 

TECHNOLOGY CAN ALSO WREAK HAVOC ON OUR HANDS, WRISTS, ELBOWS AND SHOULDERS.

 

  • Did you know that in the United States the average person sends more than 40 emails daily and spends around 23 hours a week texting?  

  • Did you know that the average gamer (13 years or older) spends nearly 6.5 hours a week playing video games?

 

As a result, our hands, wrists, elbows and even our shoulders get a huge work out daily. With that many keystrokes and mouse clicks, we are putting ourselves at risk for developing repetitive stress injuries in the arm or aggravating existing painful conditions.  Little research has been done on repetitive stress injuries and our BELOVED devices, but fortunately, once identified, these conditions are highly treatable.

 

What Can Happen To Our Arms From Device Abuse???

 

Below are a FEW, unfortunately not all, of the repetitive stress injuries that can occur from “device abuse”... 

 

TEXTING THUMB

 

Texting thumb is not a clearly defined condition but does refer one of three things.

 

1. Trigger Thumb:

Trigger thumb is the constriction of the flexor tendon in the thumb. This may result from repetitive gripping motions such as texting or holding a smart phone. 

 

Symptoms of trigger thumb include:

1.   painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens

2.  locking of the thumb in a curled position

 

2. Thumb Arthritis:

Texting thumb also refers to arthritis of the thumb, specifically at the carpometacarpal joint where the thumb connects to the wrist.  Thumb arthritis can result from repetitive movements of the thumb involved in device use.

 

Symptoms of arthritis in the thumb include: 

1. pain with movement of the thumb and with gripping

2. weakness of the thumb musculature

3. De Quervain’s Tendonitis (Tenosynovitis):  

De Quervain’s tendonitis is the inflammation of the extensor and abductor tendons of the thumb. 

 

Symptoms of De Quervain's tendonitis include: 

1. pain at the base of the thumb both at rest and with movement

2. weakness in the thumb

3.  pain radiating up the arm

 

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the flexor tendons and the median nerve as they all pass through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.  

 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include but are not limited to: 

1. pain in the wrist and hand

2. numbness in the fingers

3. the sensation of swelling or a fullness in the wrist 

4. weakness in the fingers, hand and wrist

 

 

CUBITAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

 

Unfortunately, our elbows are also affected by our “device abuse”.  If you spend too much time holding a phone to your ear, resting your elbow on a desk while working on a computer, or keeping your arm bent at an acute angle to use a computer mouse, you may be at risk for developing cubital tunnel syndrome.  

Cubital tunnel syndrome is increased tension in the cubital tunnel through which the ulnar nerve passes in the elbow. 

 

This is your funny bone spot!

 

Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome are very similar to what you feel when you bang your funny bone.  

 

Symptoms include: 

1. numbness and tingling in the ring and pinky finger of the hand

2. soreness on the inside of the elbow or forearm

 

Treatment

 

Luckily, if diagnosed early, all of the above conditions are treatable. 

 

However, it is extremely important that if you are experiencing any discomfort in the joints of your upper extremity, that you see a doctor and/or a physical therapist right away.

 

Treatment involves:

 

1. Rest: Try to avoid the motion or activity that is causing you pain.

 

2. Ice: Apply ice for 15 minutes (never directly on the skin) to decrease pain and swelling.

 

3. Medication: Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory to decrease the swelling at the affected joint.

 

4. Physical Therapy:  Your physician may prescribe physical therapy which will include:

A.   pain relieving techniques

B.   splinting to allow the affected area to heal

C.   manual massage and joint work to restore normal movement at the affected 

       area

D.   strengthening to the affected area only after the pain is minimal or nonexistent.  This will also help to prevent recurrence of the condition

E.   work station assessment as well as education to promote good posture and body mechanics during device use

 

Prevention 

 

Good or bad news first???

The good news is that all of these conditions are treatable and full recovery is likely as long as the problem is identified early. 

 

The bad news is that in order to allow the affected area to heal, it is imperative to make modifications to your device use style. 

 

What does this mean?

For conditions related to too much phone or tablet use, it is important to:

 

1. Avoid using your thumb for all of the swiping and texting that you do… try using your index finger.

 

2. Avoid holding the device with a bent elbow for prolonged periods of time.

 

3. Use a pop socket on the back of your phone to avoid gripping the phone really hard or for prolonged amounts of time.

 

4. Use your voice text to minimize the amount of typing that you do!

 

For conditions related to overuse sitting at a computer:

 

1. A physical therapist will perform an ergonomic assessment of your workstation to ensure proper posture when at your computer.

 

2. Take frequent breaks when working at your computer to avoid assuming the same posture for too long.

 

3. Keep your fingernails short.  Long finger nails make it difficult to maintain a good typing position and may interfere with comfortably using your mouse.

 

4. Try using forearm supports on your keyboard.  These supports will position your hands and arms into the proper typing position.

 

5. Use alternate keyboards.  The traditional typing position is the wrists parallel to the keyboard.   Many people find that a keyboard that facilitates a more vertical wrist position during typing is more comfortable.

 

6. Use flexible keyboards.  Flexible keyboards only require a gentle touch to activate and many people find it more comfortable than the standard keyboard.

 

7. Use alternate mice.  There are a number of mice available now that require little or no finger and wrist movement.

 

8. Use mouse click emulation software.  Many people complain of pain with the never-ending mouse clicking.  This software will allow to avoid clicking all together!

 

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