Teach Me

Is Your Smartphone Causing You Pain?

It’s no surprise that most of us spend quite a bit of time on our smartphones. Whether it’s connecting with friends, coworkers or potential dates, getting directions or boosting your high score in mobile games, the average American spends more than 4 hours a day on their phones.

Cellphones have created many efficiencies in our lives, but they’re also connected with some not-so-great things, such as poor sleep, depression and terrible posture – not to mention repetitive or overuse injuries.

Yes, all that swiping, scrolling and constant phone holding could lead you down a painful path and a trip to the doctor.

“Our hands and wrists are made up of several bones, ligaments and tendons that work together to perform smooth movements,” said Tanay Amin, MD, an orthopedic hand surgeon at Banner Health. “The repetitive motions that occur with smartphone use, however, can put a lot of stress on our hands and wrists and can potentially lead to inflammation, injury and even surgery in the most severe of cases.”

Injuries or conditions affecting the hands can make tasks that were “no-brainers” suddenly painful and difficult to perform. Although there is no direct link between smartphone use, Dr. Amin says there is little doubt that the overuse of handheld devices can have negative consequences.

“For some, the repetitive motion can lead to conditions like cubital tunnel or carpal tunnel syndromes, de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, tendinitis and even arthritis,” Dr. Amin said.

Here’s the deal: You might have 99 problems, but don’t let your smartphone be one of them. Dr. Amin gives some tips on proper smartphone use and when to seek treatment.

Prevention Tips

“To really stop any pain, you’ll want to stop that activity. But in the case of our smartphones, that’s not a realistic request,” Dr. Amin said. “Instead, you can reduce how often you use your phone and modify what you are doing to improve your comfort level.”

Dr. Amin suggested the following:

  • Use a table or flat surface: Instead of holding your phone in your hand, place on a hard surface and alternate which fingers you text and swipe with.
  • Use hands-free features: Use things like ear buds or headsets when possible.
  • Take frequent breaks: Every 15 minutes or so, take a break from your phone.
  • Keep arms straight: Holding your elbow at an extreme angle for long periods of time may cause nerve irritation or damage. Keep your arm straight to keep healthy blood flow to your fingers.

When to Seek Treatment

If you suspect your symptoms might be related to your smartphone but they don’t interfere with daily activities, then you can try some of these at-home treatment options:

  • Take Breaks: After about 15 minutes of use, take a break
  • Splint: Wear an orthotic splint to see if it helps
  • Apply Ice: 15 minutes on and off to reduce inflammation
  • Take Anti-inflammatory Meds: If you don’t have any underlying health conditions that would preclude you from taking anti-inflammatory medications, a short course may help.

However, if symptoms don’t improve – or even worsen – after one to two weeks, or if you’re having difficulty sleeping at night and performing daily activities, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

“First and foremost, if you are experiencing any pain, numbness, tingling or stiffness that persists more than two weeks or interferes with your daily life, it’s important to not wait to see your doctor,” Dr. Amin said. “Seeking treatment early can be key in less invasive procedures.”

Are you experiencing stiffness, numbness, tingling or other discomfort in your hand, wrist or fingers? You can find a Banner Health specialist near you at bannerhealth.com.

Orthopedics Pain Management Wellness COVID-19