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10 Ways to Prevent "Smartphone Thumb"

By: Dr. Christopher Khorsandi


One of the biggest hand problems smartphone users can face today is “Smartphone Thumb” a.k.a. Trigger Finger of the Thumb. This condition is a painful physiological problem that occurs as a result of inflammation of the tendon that bends and flexes your thumb. Traditionally seen in highly repetitive jobs such as factory workers, and skilled laborers, trigger finger of the thumb comes from repetitive, and strained use of the finger. Increasingly however, this problem is being seen in individuals who regularly use a smartphone. The condition arises from the habitually awkward, often-uncomfortable motions that the thumb must make while pecking away at the small keyboard found on smartphones. So the question becomes: Do we have to ditch our smartphones to save our thumbs? Absolutely not! There are ways you can still enjoy using your smartphone without having to suffer the problem of “Smartphone Thumb.” Here are a few tips:

  1. Instead of typing out long text messages, keep them short and to the point. This will minimize the strain that you will be putting your hands and wrists at.
  2. If you have an Android smartphone, use the Swype feature for your text messaging. It uses a slightly different motion than the standard manner of typing on a small keyboard with your thumbs that feels more natural.
  3. Many smartphones have keyboards that include an autocorrect feature. Using this will allow you to more quickly and efficiently compose your texts as autocorrect can predict your words as you are typing them. You can simply press on a choice of words, which will put less strain on your hands.
  4. Avoid using your thumbs for texting or using your phone at all. Instead, hold your smartphone firmly in one hand and use the forefinger of your other to type. It puts your hand at a more natural position that can prevent the tendonitis.
  5. Many of today’s smartphones have a wonderful feature of speech to text built in. If your device includes it, you can compose text messages or emails and do a number of other things without your hands and simply by relying on your voice.
  6. Sometimes, just holding your smartphone to your ear can put strain on your hand, wrist and fingers, especially if you are on a call for an hour or longer. To minimize the strain on your hands, use Bluetooth or a set of earphones during your phone calls instead.
  7. Take periodic breaks throughout the day from physically using your smartphone, especially if you are a heavy user. You will find that you have less discomfort in your hands, wrists and fingers as a result.
  8. Limit how often you play games on your smartphone. Playing games is usually intense due to the faster movements you have to make in many of them.
  9. Perform daily stretching exercises with your wrists and fingers to keep your tendons limber and your muscles strong.
  10. If you feel sudden swelling and tenderness after using your smartphone, consider apply cool compresses and call your physician if the pain persists for more than a few hours.

While getting “smart phone thumb” from over-usage was once rare, this is a very real issue that affects thousands of people each year and continues to grow as we become more and more dependent on this new technology. For those affected, there is a wide range of symptoms: pain at the base of the thumb where the thumb meets the palm, weakness in grip strength, locking or popping of the tendon with normal range of motion, stiffness that’s worse in the morning and gets better with warmth or use, and an inability to bend the thumb. Some cases are less severe and respond well to anti-inflammatories and rest while others may need a steroid injection. In more advanced stages one may need to undergo a Trigger Finger Release Surgery in order to alleviate the constant pain that they feel. If you are suffering from “smart phone thumb” you should consult your surgeon to learn more about your options for pain relief.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.