Your Constant Smartphone Use Could Be Causing You Pain

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
Is Constant Smartphone Use Causing You Pain?
Getty / Scary Mommy

If you think about your daily life, it is probably a mix between home, work, maybe kids, a significant other, and time on your smartphone. We may not like to admit it, but we are on those suckers a lot during the day. Whether it is checking email, texting, or just mindless scrolling, our phones take up a lot of our time each and every day. But have you ever thought about how you hold your phone? Or the fact that it could actually be causing you pain? Well, it could, and there are ways to help in case it is.

The Washington Post recently reported on “smartphone pinkie.” OK, this is not a medically sanctioned scientific term, but it is pretty spot-on for the pain and discomfort that many people feel. Think about it: you probably hold your phone in your hand with the brunt of the weight on your pinkie so that your thumb is free to happily keep scrolling.

As a society as a whole, we are addicted to our phones and it is truly causing some physical side effects. The Post talked to Duc Nguyen, an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins with expertise in hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder conditions. He and other experts offered some tips to help us to reduce the strain on our bodies from smartphone usage.

Take a look at how you’re holding and using your phone.

We don’t grip other things like we grip our phones, Nguyen said. It is a claw-like hold that is unnatural and our bodies just aren’t accustomed to that. He explained that this can cause increased pressure and strain on the nerves, which doesn’t only affect the hands and wrists, it can cause conditions like golfer’s or tennis elbow too.

Holding your phone in one hand is a great way to introduce tendonitis and muscle strain. If you have ever had that kind of pain anywhere in your body, you know that it is no fun and can be incredibly uncomfortable.

“Our thumbs just weren’t evolved to be doing this nonstop work for long periods of time,” Eugene Tsai, director of Hand Surgery Education at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told the Post.

But it’s not just your hands. Your neck can also become strained. According to SPINE-health, “Text neck describes a repetitive stress injury or overuse syndrome in the neck, caused by prolonged use of mobile devices with the head bent downward and not moving. Also called tech neck, text neck is commonly associated with texting, but it can be related to many activities performed on phones and tablets while looking downward, such as surfing the web, playing games, or doing work.” Smartphones can really do some damage if you’re not careful.

Don’t stay in the same position for too long, and take a break every now and then.

Just like anything else, if you stay in the same position, you are going to eventually become uncomfortable. The same is true when you are looking at your phone. Make sure to mix things up. Change hands, where you are holding, and how you are holding. You also need to take a break every once in a while. Staring at a screen for hours on end isn’t good for your hands or your eyes.

Be comfortable and try to be ergonomically correct.

Nguyen suggested that you hold your phone in two hands or get a Pop Socket. That can really relieve some of the pressure on your pinkies and is a more ergonomic fit. You may also want to try to size down on the phone. If it is positively taking over your hand, then it is probably too big and causing some strain.

Don’t be afraid to see a doctor.

While some discomfort may come and go as you move your phone around, other pain may linger and could be the sign of a more serious issue. You should always be aware and proactive with any kind of tingling or numbness in your hands, neck, or back and prolonged neck pain. Dominic King, a sports medicine and interventional orthopedic physician at the Cleveland Clinic, shared with the Post that “Knowing how to reduce some of those larger injuries may start simply with just setting a time limit with your phone.

This isn’t the first time that we have heard of smartphone injuries. There has been talk of things like “texting thumb” and selfie elbow” for some time. Taking a selfie is another one of those motions that isn’t really natural. We weren’t built to hold our phones out in front of our faces while extending our elbows several times a day. Sure, a selfie stick could help, but who really wants to be seen with one of those? James A. Riley, certified hand therapist and director of Rehab Services at Motus Rehabilitation in Warren, Michigan, told Healthline that taking selfies is like holding a box. It may not be heavy, but it is awkward.

“Though it’s not a really heavy grip, you have to hold the phone out, so this can put stress on the tendons that help to extend or flex the wrist, and that’s not something [they’re] equipped for,” Riley said.

And how about that texting thumb? Yep, that’s a thing too. Overusing your thumb to text or play video games can put stress on the tendon causing inflammation and pain. SimpleTexting offers some interesting facts about how consumers in the United States have changed their Smartphone habits from 2019-2021.

  • Screen time is up by nearly 50% since the start of the pandemic, with 61% of consumers saying that their texting is up significantly since COVID-19 came into our lives
  • Checking, sending, and texting texts are what 78% of consumers use their smartphones for most each day
  • Text subscriptions are up, with 62% of consumers subscribing to texts from at least one business this past year
  • But if the texts are coming too often, 60% of consumers will unsubscribe
  • For 60% of consumers, they are replying back to their texts within one to two minutes

No one’s smartphone is going away any time soon. As a matter of fact, they will probably play an even bigger role in our lives in the future, if you can imagine that. Take the advice of the experts and switch things up from time to time. Move that phone around and give your pinkies a break. And of course, as we always say, listen to your body. If something feels wrong, it probably is.

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