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.