Handheld Electronics Can Lead to Long Term Problems

Posted: October 14, 2008

Cell phones, Blackberries, text messaging and handheld video games all require repetitive movements, causing long term damage to thumbs, hands, wrists and arms.

Repetitive motion injuries have long affected laptop and desktop computer users, resulting in painful conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). These types of conditions are increasingly affecting users of today's many varied handheld devices and long work hours.

In 2005, the first reports introducing "Black Berry thumb" were released. The phrase described a repetitive stress injury of the thumb from over using small keypads. With some able to type up to 40 words a minute using only their thumbs there has been a considerable increase in thumb overstress conditions.

Specialists refer to the thumb as the least dexterous digit not meant to be rigorously used. Heavy thumb use can lead to painful swelling of the sheath - the protective covering around the tendons in the thumb.

Today there are increasing reports of children diagnosed with "trigger thumb" or "gamers thumb" from continuous overuse of their thumbs and hands on various video games and text messaging.

Blackberry, gamers and trigger thumb all represent a repetitive stress injury (RSI) that causes swelling and pain at the base of the thumb as a result of overusing video games and other handheld devices. RSI is used to refer to a number of disorders most commonly affecting the hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders.

Clearly individuals cannot simply quit using their Blackberry. And it would take much more than the threat of a painful thumb condition to get children to put down their video game controller. Therefore, some recommendations to help prevent these injuries while continuing to use handheld devices were developed to help reduce the risks.

For handheld games, it is suggested that individuals take a 10-15 minute break for each hour of play - and a break of several hours should the player experience soreness in the wrist or hand. An external keyboard that connects to the handheld device is also an effective alternative.

Users of handheld devices should always keep wrists straight and not let them bend downward. Stretching and moving frequently gives the head, neck and shoulder muscles a break and releases areas of stress and strain. Ergonomics plays an important role in decreasing injuries, so using good posture and sitting in a chair that provides solid back support with feet on the floor prove effective preventative measures.

Conservative treatment focused on resting the affected hand is usually sufficient if detected early. More severe cases may require a splint or cortisone treatment. Surgery is required if other conservative treatment does not prove effective.

Dr. David Hildreth is a leading orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, wrist and elbow conditions at the Richmond Bone & Joint Clinic in Texas. To learn more about trigger finger and other conditions and treatments log onto or call 281-344-1715 today.