Digital Disabilities, Repetitive Stress & Our Mobile Devices

Too much time on smartphones and tablets can lead to a host of repetitive stress problems known today as “digital disabilities.” These conditions include; cell phone elbow, texter’s thumb, texter’s neck, iPad hand and selfie elbow.digital_device_overload

Cell phone elbow results when the bent hand holding the cell phone to the ear for prolonged periods of time causes compression of the ulnar nerve.  This is also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, which is neuropathy of the ulnar nerve or “funny bone” nerve.

Cell phone elbow may contribute to another injury called smartphone pinky, which is a condition resulting when the bent elbow (while on a cell phone) causes compression of the ulnar nerve, which also gives sensation to the small finger. Over time, the sensation of the small finger diminishes.

The repetitive movements of our thumbs while texting may lead to texter’s thumb.

Texter’s thumb is a painful inflammation of the tendons that control thumb movement and extend to the wrist.  This causes pain at the base of the thumb, which may extend to the lower arm.

The concern is not the thumb pressing down on the keys of a phone but rather the frequent passing of the thumb over the keyboard, as the thumb joint is not meant to move rapidly in this manner.

Texter’s neck comes from too much time spent on electronic devices, subsequently leading to neck and spine injuries.

Texter’s neck has become a catchphrase describing neck pain and damage from looking down at a cell phone, tablet or other wireless device too frequently and for too long.

Another modern day “digital disability,” iPad hand, causes tendonitis in the hand from having the iPad in one position for a prolonged period of time.

Many of these digital disabilities are seen in Millennials, most notably selfie elbow. In fact, according to studies from the Pew Research Center, Millennials are more likely than other generations to have posted a selfie on a social media site (spending an average of five hours a week taking selfies).

The weight of the phone is not the concern.  The repetition combined with the contortion of the elbow, held in unnatural positions while capturing the selfie shot are actually what pose the problem.

Preventing Digital Disabilities, Repetitive Stress Conditions

There are many preventative measures to prevent damage from overuse of handheld devices, such as hands-free modifications, tablet stands and attachable keyboards.

To reduce the risk of cell phone elbow, use an earpiece, a headset or Bluetooth. To avoid texter’s thumb, a keypad is great. And try taking breaks from texting. Use the audio command on your phone to just give your hands a rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SELFIE ELBOW -

Among the “Modern Day Maladies” of the Millennials

Medical conditions are often a “snapshot” of goings on in a society and a period of time. This couldn’t be more true as represented by one of the newest orthopedic hand and upper extremity conditions physicians have today coined “Selfie Elbow.”Selfie Elbow

Throughout history ailments have often reflected the activities and environment experienced during that period.  Gamekeepers thumb of the 1950s eventually became more commonly known as Skier’s Thumb.  Today it’s called by modern day millennials… “Texter’s Thumb.”

What may very well have been Archer’s elbow from a time preceding all of us, has over the years become popularized as Tennis Elbow (lateral/outside) or Golfer’s Elbow (medial/inside) – and today is referred to as Selfie Elbow, joining the growing list of “modern day maladies” afflicting millennials (those born from the early 1990s to early 2000s).

While the names and mechanism of overuse conditions may change, the end result is the same – tendonitis.

According to recent reports, millennials spend an average of five hours a week taking selfies.  And each one is expected to take over 25,000 in their lifetime (1,2).

The weight of the phone is not the concern. The repetition combined with the contortion of the elbow, held in unnatural positions while capturing the Selfie shot are actually what pose the problem.

Further adding to elbow stress is the Selfie Stick.  Selfie Sticks extend up to 51 inches.  Positioning and maintaining balance of a phone on the Selfie Stick further exacerbates the stress on the elbow and now also unnaturally engages the wrist as well.

Tendons work to anchor muscle to bone.  When the repetitive overuse and sometimes awkward positioning of the arm places continual stress (micro-trauma) on the muscles and tendons at the elbow, which help to extend and stabilize the wrist, irritation can result.

Currently Selfie Elbow more closely mimics Tennis Elbow and Olecranon Bursitis. Technically known as lateral epicondylitis, Tennis Elbow affects the lateral (outside) portion of the elbow.  The same diagnostic tools and treatment for Tennis Elbow are used to treat Selfie Elbow.

Symptoms of Selfie Elbow

The symptoms of Selfie Elbow are also similar to those of Tennis Elbow and can include:

  • Pain on the outside of the elbow during activity.
  • Weakness with grabbing or gripping.
  • Dull ache while at rest/night.

Diagnosing Selfie Elbow

A physical examination and understanding of patient history and activities leading up to the pain will help determine the areas affected and the diagnosis.

Treating Selfie Elbow

Treatment for this and most types of tendonitis includes rest and refrain from the activity causing the stress and strain.  Other conservative treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy to stretch and build strength.
  • Behavior modification – a change in posture/position while taking Selfies.
  • An elbow brace to be worn during the daytime and a wrist brace at night – holding both in anatomically comfortable positions.
  • Steroid injections.
  • Ultrasound or heat therapy.
  • Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections.
  • Shockwave Therapy.

While rare, if conservative treatment fails to resolve the issue and pain becomes incapacitating, surgical intervention may be required to remove diseased, degenerated tendon tissue. This type of procedure is generally performed by minimally invasive surgery including arthroscopy, followed by rehabilitation therapy.

Preventing Selfie Elbow

While avoiding such overuse conditions is difficult for athletes and others inflexibly bound to their activity, those experiencing Selfie Elbow are encouraged to limit their Selfie activity and engage their upper extremity in other exercise during off time.  Also, frequently changing arm position, and possibly arms, while taking selfies can help reduce the strain on the elbow and the tendons and muscles which support it.

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