February 28, 2019
2 min read

Chronic hand, elbow pain may be associated with technology overuse

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renee enriquez
Renee Enriquez

Similar to the types of injuries observed with overuse of the computer, orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists have begun to see an increase in musculoskeletal overuse injuries associated with chronic phone and tablet use.

“With increased mobile phone and smart phone usage over the past 15 or 20 years, people have been using their upper extremities and sitting and being in positions that are consistent with poor ergonomic function and poor ergonomic positioning,” Renee Enriquez, MD, RMSK, attending physician, physical medicine and rehabilitation at UT Southwestern Medical Center, told Healio.com/Orthopedics.

Known as “selfie elbow” and “texting thumb,” patients with these chronic overuse injuries experience pain at the elbow, wrist and hand, according to Enriquez. She also noted text neck, or chronic neck, wrist and hand pain, has also been associated with increased mobile phone use.

Although several retrospective studies have focused on individuals aged 18 to 21 years as the population to report these symptoms, Enriquez noted these symptoms can also be found in older populations.

“We know that in the working population, you know with ... overuse of computers [and] poor ergonomic positioning with laptop computers, there is evidence to show that has led to increased carpal tunnel, increased tenosynovitis or tendon pathologies, neck pain,” Enriquez said. “So, it is not outside of the realm of reason to think that this would happen with texting thumb and text neck and even selfie elbow.”

For patients who present with severe neck, wrist and hand pain, Enriquez recommends physical therapy, conservative management and oral pain medication. Although it is difficult to eliminate technology in an era when the population is dependent on it, Enriquez advises patients to take breaks and to alternate the use of hands. She added use of technological accessories, such as selfie sticks and tripod stands adaptable to iPhones, may help reduce and prevent chronic pain.

young amntaking selfie with selfie stick 
Technological accessories, such as selfie sticks and tripod stands adaptable to iPhones, may help reduce and prevent chronic pain.
Adobe Stock

“It is a difficult conversation to have ... in a population where we have to have our phones, but keep reinforcing what the possible risks are and how we can try to avoid it,” Enriquez said.

Despite current retrospective studies available, long-term prospective studies are needed to look at increased use of texting and the association with musculoskeletal pain or musculoskeletal disorders, according to Enriquez.

“My fear is that, in the future, the younger population will be experiencing ... more neck pain than usual, maybe slight advancement in arthritis in the [carpometacarpal] CMC joint at digit one faster than they would if they were not texting [and] the same thing in terms of even spinal pathology later on,” Enriquez said. – by Casey Tingle





Disclosure: Enriquez reports no relevant financial disclosures.