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How Texting Affects Our Hands

Texting has become one of the most popular forms of communication, and statistics show just how staggering the usage is:

  • Over 6 billion text messages are sent each day in the US

  • The average adult spends a total of 23 hours a week texting

  • Americans send 69,000 texts every second

An average smartphone uses keeps their phone for hours each day. The frequent use of smartphones can lead to debilitating hand pain. When people text, their hands, arms and elbows get a workout without even realizing it. These repetitive keystrokes and mouse clicks may pose a risk for injury or aggravate existing conditions.

Heavy users of smartphones may find their thumbs aching, and the term “texting thumb” is being used more frequently in medical circles. This is a condition, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis. More serious problems such as tendinitis and sore muscles around your arm are also common with smartphone use.

Symptoms include:

  • A tender lump in your palm

  • Swelling

  • Catching or popping sensation in your finger or thumb joints

  • Pain when bending or straightening your finger

If symptoms are mild, resting the finger may be enough to resolve the problem. A splint may be recommended to keep your finger in a neutral, resting position. Over-the-counter pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDS) or acetaminophen can be used to relieve the pain.

Your hands and wrists may also experience Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during heavy keyboard and smartphone usage. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes increasing numbness in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Symptoms include numbness, tingling and pain in the hand; and strange sensations and pain traveling up the arm toward the shoulder. These feelings could lead a person to drop things.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can also first be treated using anti-inflammatory medications, splints or injections. However, if medication doesn’t work, a minimally invasive procedure may be necessary. This operation has a quick recovery time, and a recurrence rate of less than one percent, meaning it’s considered a “one-time fix.”

How can you relieve hand pain from smartphone use:

We understand that in this day and age it is nearly impossible not to use a smartphone, but you should be spending no more than five hours, evenly distributed throughout your day, on your handheld devices. By following these tips, you can significantly reduce your pain and lower the possibility of temporary or permanent hand damage.

1. Do “smartphone stretches” Take breaks from constant phone use. During breaks, flex your wrist, hand tendons and muscles forward then backward to keep them flexible.

2. Apply hot or cold compress Hot compresses relax the tendons and muscles around your arm which allows for better movement. For acute pain that lasts for about one week, a cold compress can help better than heat because heat may result to swelling and more throbbing pain.

3. Massage Massaging your hand can help break up the ball-like muscles and calm muscle spasms.

4. Give your thumb a rest This most used appendage can eventually lead to thumb arthritis, tendinitis and contractures. To prevent “texting thumb,” alternate the use of your other fingers for typing on the screen. A stylus pen can also help keep your wrist straight.

5. Use hands-free features on your phone If you are experiencing hand pain but absolutely have to send a couple more text messages, switch on your phone to voice-to-text mode so you can give your strained fingers, hands and wrists some rest.

When to seek professional help

Unless numbness, tingling, cramping and stiffness continue after you put down your phone, you probably do not need to seek treatment. If you are still having symptoms when you are not using your phone, then it is likely time to seek the advice of a hand specialist who will be able to look at the symptoms and perform some tests to determine the extent of your injuries.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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