Sore thumb, could it be from texting?

There was a time when letters were the only way of long-distance communication. Then came the telephone, next the cell phone and now there is texting – not just the mobile network-based but internet-based too. So, letters are now written over SMS – long, frequent, running into hundreds in a day, and of course, for no cost at all.

School and college students as well as young executives form the widest practitioners of this trend. For the same reason, they are also the ones falling prey to the worst health hazards of this trend. In UK, it is reported that about four million mobile phone users suffer from texting-related injuries variously called Blackberry thumb, Nintendo thumb, iPod thumb, text messaging thumb and repetitive thumb syndrome.  

While no conclusive study is available in this regard in India, doctors here are also reporting a steady rise in the number of young patients with complaints of pain at the base of the thumb, in the wrist, the web area between the thumb and the hand, and palm tendons, even long after they have finished texting.  

Dr Yash Gulati, senior consultant, orthopaedics, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “In medical terms, we call this Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Earlier, we used to see this problem more commonly with long-duration computer users. However, of late, long hours of mobile texting is emerging the major cause of this problem.”

“The problem stems from the small size of mobiles. People tend to hold the device in their fingers and press the tiny keys with their thumbs. This reverses the computer keyboard position, where clumsy thumbs are relegated to the space bar and fingers do the typing. Also, while most text messages are short, users make up for this by sending a lot of them.”

Dr Anil Arora, senior consultant, orthopaedics, Max Hospital, adds another important point, “People suffering from Hypo-thyroidism should be even more careful as thyroid makes your muscles stiff and prone to fatigability. Therefore, we see more patients of Tenosynovitis – inflammation of the tendons around the thumb – who are already battling thyroid.”

Both the doctors assure that the condition can be easily managed by following a few simple rules. Limit the number, frequency and length of your SMSes. In case you need to make a lengthy conversation, call instead. If you feel pain at the base of your thumb, stop texting immediately. Vary the hands you use as well as the digits.

Some simple exercises of the hand can also be useful. Tap each finger with the thumb of the same hand; repeat five times. Pull your thumb firmly with the other hand; repeat again. Wrap an elastic band around the tips of fingers and thumb and open your hand against it; repeat 20 times. If nothing works, pack ice in a thin cloth and press it on the soar areas.

If the pain persists, show to a doctor.   

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