Have Blackberry Thumb? Give it a rest
March 27, 2009
We frequently hear from friends or acquaintances that suffer from hand and arm problems such as carpal tunnel and tennis elbow usually related to overuse or repetitive movements. With the advancement of wireless technology, we now have a new issue for hands.Due to the increase of people taking advantage of text messaging, there is a new condition called Blackberry thumb. No, this does not mean that you are immune if your phone is not a Blackberry. This is just the term coined for an increasing number of cases of thumb pain and inflammation from overuse of the thumbs for communication. Repetitive texting is the culprit in this condition. Unlike a standard keyboard, which is designed to use all of the fingers equally, the keys, or touch screen area on a phone is very small. Due to the small size, the quickest way for texting is with the thumbs. An experienced texter can text up to 40 words per minute. Our thumbs weren’t meant to do this kind of activity.The anatomy of the thumb is best designed for pinching and manipulating activities. When texting, the thumb is generally in a hyper-flexed position at the end joint. This can cause a strain on the ligaments and tendons that cross over the joint. It can also cause a strain within the joint. Excessive use of the thumb in this position can even result in inflammation in the lower thumb joints and wrist. In addition to pain, symptoms may include swelling and redness at the joint. If swelling is allowed to persist, the joints may become stiff and difficult to move. Problems with the thumb may easily affect all of your daily activities such as writing, turning a key, or turning the pages of a book. The fastest and easiest cure for this problem is to pick up the phone and call. A flared-up thumb needs rest. You may need to look at your texting habit and decide how much texting is really necessary. Icing may help settle down a swollen, painful thumb and allow you to return to gentle range of motion exercises. It may take some time before your thumb returns to normal.If allowed to continue, this condition has the potential to transition into arthritis and could permanently affect the use of your hand. In severe cases you may need to consult your health care provider. Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and, even more specifically, a Hand Therapist can help with proper exercises, instruction about altering phone habits, and treatment to help reduce pain and swelling.