In today’s digital world, smartphones have become essential to our daily lives. Smartphones are considered one of the most innovative and communicative tools in the present world. From communication to entertainment, smartphones offer endless possibilities at our fingertips. However, the overuse of smartphones has led to several health issues, including poor hand health. One particular concern is the link between smartphone addiction and poor hand health. This article further explores this connection by highlighting the different pathologies emerging in clinical practice.
Smartphone addiction has become a prevalent problem among young adults worldwide. It has been observed that excessive use of smartphones leads to several physical and mental health issues, including poor posture, back and neck pain, eye strain, insomnia, and anxiety. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center,revealed 46% of young adults feel anxious when they are not using their phones, and 54% check their phones regularly throughout the day.1 The addiction to smartphones is linked to the content they offer, including apps, social media, and games. The content of the apps provides instant gratification, which triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in our brain’s reward system that is known to make us feel good.
Some Hand Conditions Arise Due to the Excessive Use of Smartphones
Pain in Pinky Finger/ Little Finger or Smartphone Pinky
According to the blog written by Courtney Pochin (2020), constantly holding and operating a smartphone with one hand can strain the pinky finger, mainly if used to support the device’s weight. This can cause discomfort, pain, and even reduced finger mobility. A study by Güzel et al. (2019) showed that muscle wasting, or weakness known as atrophy, can occur in the pinky finger of the dominant hand – the one you spend the most time holding your mobile device with. The authors assume this phenomenon occured due to the excess weight on the pinky finger from cell phone use.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
This condition is caused by thumb overuse while texting or using the smartphone. It can result in inflammation or irritation of the tendons in the thumb, leading to pain, stiffness, and difficulty gripping objects (Epstein, 2020).The repetitive motions used when typing or swiping on a smartphone can strain these tendons, leading to pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the thumb (Kentaro, 2019).
Cell Phone Elbow/Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Prolonged use of smartphones can cause the muscles in the hand, wrist, and forearm to tense up, resulting in a condition known as text claw. Additionally, holding the phone to the ear for extended periods can compress the ulnar nerve, leading to cubital tunnel syndrome or cell phone elbow. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the forearm and hand (Fatima et al., 2019).
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
Smartphone use often involves repetitive motions, such as typing, scrolling, and swiping. Over time, these repetitive actions can strain the muscles, tendons, and nerves in the hand and wrist, leading to repetitive strain injury. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, weakness, and reduced range of motion (Sarla, 2019).
Text neck is a condition that describes severe neck pain and damage caused by looking down at a smartphone or other electronic device for prolonged periods. According to a study, by Hansraj (2014) the average head weighs around 10-12 pounds in a neutral position, but the weight increases as the head is tilted forward. For instance, a 15-degree tilt forward would double the weight, increasing the load to 27 pounds, and a 60-degree tilt would raise the weight to 60 pounds, putting extreme pressure on the spine and surrounding muscles.
Impact of Text Neck on Hand Health
The impact of text neck on hand health is not immediately visible but is significant. The excessive use of smartphones and the consequent strain on the neck muscles can lead to decreased blood flow to the nerves and muscles in the hand. The decreased blood flow results in poor circulation, leading to numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers (Daniela, et al. 2021).
Correct Way to Hold Your Smartphone to Avoid Musculoskeletal Disorders
- Use both hands to hold your smartphone. This helps distribute the weight and reduces the strain on a single hand or finger (Eitivipart et al., 2018).
- Avoid gripping your smartphone too tightly. A relaxed grip reduces tension in your hand and forearm muscles, preventing fatigue and discomfort.
- Rest your phone in the palm of your hand or use your fingertips to support its weight. Relax your hand when holding a smartphone, avoid excessive force or gripping it too tightly. Use your fingertips rather than your entire hand to navigate the screen.
- Use a phone stand, popsocket or holder when watching videos or engaging in activities requiring prolonged viewing time.
- Pay attention to your overall posture while using your smartphone. Sit or stand upright with your shoulders relaxed and your back properly supported. Remember to take regular breaks from smartphone use to rest your hands, wrists, and eyes. Additionally, using a stylus or voice-to-text features can minimize the need for excessive typing and tapping.
- Bonus tip: Set timers, (iphone has this feature built in to limit app use) to take strategic rest breaks from your phone and stretch your hand.
The overuse of smartphones affects our hand health in many ways. Moreover, physical therapy, occupational therapy by certified hand therapist and exercise can help alleviate the symptoms and prevent them from causing permanent damage to our spine and hand health.
You can minimize hand strain and alleviate discomfort by incorporating simple strategies such as practicing good posture and implementing ergonomic modifications, stretching exercises, and using stress ball devices like Squegg for isometric exercises that will help strengthen your hand muscles. Squeeze the ball tightly for a few seconds, then release it. Repeat this exercise several times to improve hand strength and alleviate pain.
- Pochin, C. (2020, October 19). Health expert explains what “smartphone pinky” is – and how you can combat it. Mirror. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/health/health-expert-explains-what-smartphone-22870634
- David, D., Giannini, C., Chiarelli, F., & Mohn, A. (2021). Text Neck Syndrome in Children and Adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1565.
- Eitivipart, A. C., Viriyarojanakul, S., & Redhead, L. (2018). Musculoskeletal disorder and pain associated with smartphone use: A systematic review of biomechanical evidence. Hong Kong Physiotherapy Journal, 38(02), 77–90. https://doi.org/10.1142/s1013702518300010
- Epstein, H.-A. B. (2020). Texting thumb. Journal of Hospital Librarianship, 20(1), 82–86. https://doi.org/10.1080/15323269.2020.1702846
- Fatima, A., Sadiq, . A., Ahmad, . A., Gillani, . A. & Hanif, . K. (2019) Prevalence of Cell phone elbow among young adults. Rawal Medical Journal, 44 (2), 359-361.
- Hansraj K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical technology international, 25, 277–279.
- Iwata, K. (2019). Smartphone-induced tendinitis: A case report. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 8(5), 1784-1785.
- Sarla, G.S. (2019). Excessive use of electronic gadgets: Health effects. Egyptian Journal of Internal Medicine, 31, 408–411. https://doi.org/10.4103/ejim.ejim_56_19
- Silver, L. (2019, February 5). Smartphone ownership is growing rapidly around the world, but not always equally. Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2019/02/05/smartphone-ownership-is-growing-rapidly-around-the-world-but-not-always-equally/