Have you been using your cellphone more frequently since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? According to a survey conducted by the Ziff Media Group in August 2020, many people used a great deal of their quarantine time to text, talk on the phone and browse the internet.
In a tweet that has over 250,000 likes as of Nov. 2, a woman claims people who use their pinky as an anchor while holding up their cellphone may be destroying their wrists and aggravating their ulnar nerve. But can you really injure your hand by holding your phone often?
Is it possible to get a hand injury from holding your cellphone too much?
- Kaiser Permanente
- Rush University System for Health
- Dr. Jessica A. Frankenhoff, orthopedic surgeon at Virginia Commonwealth University
- Dr. Daniel J. Gittings, orthopedic surgeon at the Hoag Orthopedic Institute
Yes, it is possible to get a hand injury from holding your cellphone too much.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to Kaiser Permanente, texting, swiping and scrolling on a cellphone too often can lead to some physical health issues, like eye strain and neck pain. It can also cause issues in the hands, wrists and thumbs, but Dr. Jessica A. Frankenhoff, an orthopedic surgeon at Virginia Commonwealth University, told VERIFY these problems are typically minor and easy to treat, and says permanent injuries are rare.
“I've been in practice for 17 years now and I've never had anybody come in saying that they needed or that they wanted any sort of intervention other than rest and maybe some hand therapy for a repetitive use injury,” said Frankenhoff.
There are different types of hand pain associated with overusing your cellphone that could potentially lead to inflammation, swelling or tenderness in one or more joints. Kaiser says these include “texting thumb,” tendonitis, arthritis and even carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Texting thumb — Pain, inflammation, and swelling of thumb tendons caused by repetitive motion.
- Tendonitis — Inflammation of a tendon, which is the cord attaching a muscle to a bone, usually due to overuse or injury.
- Arthritis — Inflammation, swelling, and tenderness of one or more joints. You won’t develop arthritis due to smartphone use, but you can aggravate it.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome — A numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist.
“Beyond the thumb, other fingers can also fall victim to overuse. When working on laptops or watching our devices in bed, you may flex your elbows in a way that kinks a nerve, affecting the pinky and ring fingers,” according to Kaiser. “So, it’s important to be aware of how your hands and arms feel when they’re positioned in certain ways for long periods of time.”
According to the Rush University System for Health, elbows can suffer if a person spends too much time holding their phone to their ear, resting their elbow on a desk or keeping their arm bent at an acute angle while using a computer mouse. The Chicago-based healthcare system says these positions can contribute to cubital tunnel syndrome, which is increased tension in the tunnel through which the ulnar nerve passes in the elbow.
Rush University says some of the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling in the ring and pinky finger, as well as soreness in the inside of the elbow or forearm. Dr. Daniel J. Gittings, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hoag Orthopedic Institute, told VERIFY that permanent damage to the ulnar nerve is a possibility but says it typically takes years and years of overuse to happen.
“It doesn't happen overnight. It's not something that happens in the middle of the day or a few hours of using your phone. It's years and years of compression,” said Gittings. “Sometimes people are just more predisposed to having a smaller canal and cubital tunnel, or the carpal tunnel — overuse and certainly postural things that are chronically ongoing for long, long periods of time — these are all things that can contribute to these nerve entrapment syndromes.”
To relieve cubital tunnel syndrome, Rush University says it’s important to avoid positions that keep your elbow flexed for long periods of time and to use padding if you need to rest it on a hard surface. It can also help to use hands-free options when you’re talking on the phone instead of holding it up to your ear.
On its website, Kaiser offers a few tips on how to prevent cellphone-related hand injuries. These include taking breaks, switching hands, stretching your hands and wrists, as well as choosing a phone that fits the size of your hand or using smartphone accessories, like pop sockets, to get a better grip or to help prop your phone up.
Kaiser says to check in with your primary care doctor or a physical therapist if you start to experience any pain in your thumb, wrist, or hand. It says if you have severe hand pain, your doctor may recommend you stop using your mobile phone for a period of time, wear a hand or thumb brace or recommend anti-inflammatory medicine, like ibuprofen, which can provide temporary pain relief.
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