Cell phones have quickly gone from a luxury item to a virtual necessity. According to a recent poll, smartphone ownership jumped from 35 percent in 2011 to 85 percent by 2021 in America. Age played a major factor in determining the likelihood of smartphone ownership as 96 percent of people aged 18-29 had a smartphone compared to just 61 percent of adults over 65.
Obviously, the amount of phones in the world is going to produce a lot of texts. Researchers estimate that mobile users in the United States sent more than 2.2 trillion SMS and MMS text messages in 2020 alone. To put that number in perspective: there are roughly 300 billion stars in the Milky Way. That means Americans sent more than seven texts for every star in the galaxy in just one year!
Neither cell phones nor texting is going away anytime soon. With trillions of texts being sent annually, it probably comes as no surprise that more and more people are experiencing “texting thumb.” The good news is there are ways to reduce the amount of texting that you do in daily life. The bad news is that you’ll still be at risk of experiencing this injury.
What Is Texting Thumb?
Technically, texting thumb isn’t a clearly defined medical condition. However, it’s generally used as the term for when the tendons in your thumbs and wrists become inflamed and irritated. These types of injuries are especially common in people that heavily use their cell phones in their daily lives. The problems typically start as the result of constantly making repetitive and wide-ranging motions with your thumbs.
Scrolling down on your phone and typing with your thumbs aren’t necessarily hazardous movements. But think of how many times a day you make the exact same motions with your thumbs. Opposable thumbs can perform many amazing feats, but they have their limits and weren’t designed for scrolling and texting all day.
Who Is at Risk for Texting Thumb?
Using a phone that’s too small will increase this rubbing, and the excess friction could trigger texting thumb.
Overusing your phone isn’t the only thing that will put you at risk of developing a texting thumb. The size of your phone might also play a role in increasing your odds. The tendons in your thumb are likely to become irritated when they’re constantly rubbed against the surrounding tunnel of your hands and wrists.
On the other hand, using a cell phone or tablet that’s big and heavy could contribute to a different issue. It’s less likely to experience discomfort in the thumbs but more likely to encounter pain in the pinky finger and wrists.
The reason is that you’ll have to employ an awkward grip on your device to use it. The pinky finger joint is likely to be stressed and pulled, which can result in inflammation.
The wrist is most often injured because of a combination of two factors: grip and scrolling motion. Holding your device vertically with one hand and scrolling with the thumb of the same hand puts a lot of strain on two tendons located between your wrist and thumb. When these tendons are overly stretched for sustained periods, it can lead to a condition called de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.
Chronic overuse of your wrist tendons is commonly associated with de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Especially for women, diabetics, people with rheumatoid arthritis, or anyone over 30. In recent years, this condition has earned the nickname “mommy’s thumb,” as it’s become a common affliction for the mothers of newborns. Mothers holding their baby in one arm means they only have one hand to hold their phone with and scroll.
What Are the Symptoms of Texting Thumb?
Texting thumb can be highly irritating and detrimental to your dexterity. Inflammation in your joints can be very painful and shouldn’t be ignored. If you start to develop any of the following symptoms, then it might be a good idea to switch to phone calls wherever you can:
- A popping or clicking sound whenever you try to move your thumb
- Your thumb often gets locked in a bent position
- You feel pain whenever you try to straighten out or bend your thumb
- Your thumb is getting particularly stiff in the morning
- You feel a bump or general tenderness at the base of your thumb
- Your thumb feels like it sometimes sticks when you try to move it
- You struggle to move your thumb or wrist when gripping or pinching something
- There is swelling near the base of your thumb
How Can You Treat Texting Thumb?
The primary cause of texting thumb is related to chronic inflammation in your tendons. The good news is that tendon inflammation is typically treated with a simple combination of rest and anti-inflammatory medication.
The bad news is that you’ll probably need to make several adjustments to your daily routine and phone usage. This can be a particularly challenging part of healing as a cell phone addiction can be hard to break.
In more extreme cases of texting thumb, you might need to undergo steroid injections to repair the damage and potentially corrective surgery. The same is true for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, although the majority of cases can be treated with a splint, rest, and more efficient device handling.
The surgery to repair any tendon damage is minimally invasive, outpatient, and normally takes less than 30 minutes. The recovery time is typically between two and four weeks.
How Do You Prevent Texting Thumb?
It’s safe to say that the worst-case scenario for texting thumb is much less severe than other medical conditions. However, it’s best not to risk any permanent damage or spend money on surgery and medication.
Prevention is the best and most effective treatment option. Here are a few ways that you reduce the odds of experiencing texting thumb:
- Improve your posture. Support your wrists and forearms as often as possible when handling your phone. Just because your phone might feel light to handle, it doesn’t mean that your tendons aren’t being strained.
- Give your thumbs a rest. Get in the habit of using your index finger occasionally to scroll instead of always relying on your thumbs. For even better results, you should learn how to use each finger on both hands to scroll.
- Limit your messages. Using text shorthand, abbreviations, and predictive text can help to lower the amount of typing that you do. It might not seem like much, but it can add up very quickly.
- Stop when you start feeling sore. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Listen to your thumbs, hands, and wrists when they’re crying out in pain and give them a rest.
- Use your voice to cut back on texting. Most phones come with a talk-to-text feature that will transcribe your voice message into a text message. You could also just get in the habit of making phone calls instead of texting.
Keep Your Thumbs Safe by Working Smarter
If you ever experience texting thumb, you’ll learn very quickly how much you rely on them. The reality is that phones are just too important in the modern world to abandon completely. So that means you will need to work smarter to avoid pain in your thumbs and wrists.
Using Dialed helps you limit the amount of scrolling and texting each day. You’ll access features such as mass texting, contact management, and productivity settings. These programs can help you run your business more efficiently and save some of the wear and tear on your thumbs.
Download Dialed today so that you can start your free seven-day trial. Your thumbs will thank you for the week of light-duty, and you’ll see how much easier running a business can be.
Effects of Smartphones on our Fingers, Hands, and Elbows | The Orthopaedic Institute
De Quervain Tenosynovitis | NCBI Bookshelf
Phone Addiction: Warning Signs And Treatment | Addiction Center
The Association Between Smartphone Addiction and Thumb/Wrist Pain | PMC
Text Messages Sent in the US 2005-2020 | Statista
Is Having a Smartphone a Requirement in 2022? | Investopedia