Smartphones have become a huge part of our daily lives – our primary form of communication personally and professionally. Right at our fingertips we have the internet, text messaging, video chatting, social media, email, GPS, music, a camera, and an app for nearly anything else you could think up. According to statistics, the average American spends over 5 hours a day on their mobile phones (ZD Net, 2019.) Most people will read that statistic and say, “No way, not me. There is no way that I am on my phone that long.” I encourage you to find your “Screen Time” statistics within your cell phones settings and see just how long you are spending on your phone every day. Get ready for a real eye opener of just how much you are on your cell phone every week!
Handheld technology has in some ways opened avenues for us that we never would have dreamed. Who would have thought that you could literally work while waiting for your doctor’s appointment or sign up to bring cookies to a bake sale while waiting in line to pick your children up from school? Great, right?! Unfortunately, with the ever-growing use of technology around the clock, our bodies are begging to differ.
Over the past 10 years with our quest to “do more” via our cell phones and/or tablets, the size of these devices has only increased. Back in 2010 when smartphones were becoming popular, the iPhone 4 weighed in at 4.8 ounces; the more recent iPhone 13 max pro weighed in at 8.47 ounces (almost double in weight.) That same iPhone 4 had a screen size of 3.5 inches whereas the new iPhone 13 touts a “new and better” 6.7 inch screen size.
Have you recently upgraded your phone, and now, you have pain in your thumb? In your pinky? Have you noticed yourself reaching for your phone more frequently over the past few weeks or month and now you are noticing that you have more aching in your neck/shoulder down into your elbow? Unfortunately, popular tech companies are focusing more on appearance these days instead of ergonomic designs that protect our hands! Therefore, our phones are continuing to get larger, heavier, and more difficult to grasp on top of causing additional stress to our fingers, hands, and wrists.
Common symptoms related to smartphone use:
- Pain in elbow, wrist and finger joints.
- Numbness throughout the hand, especially in the pinky and ring fingers.
- Cramping in thumb.
- Tingling sensation throughout the hand and wrist.
- Muscle spasms and/or radiating pain throughout the
Common diagnoses related to smartphone use:
- Trigger finger/thumb
- De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Cubital tunnel syndrome
- General hand, wrist, elbow, and neck pain
What may be causing your pain?
- Repetitive movements of fingers and thumbs.
- Increased stress on the fingers, hands, or wrists due to size/weight of your phone. The “Plus” and XL versions of popular smartphones are very popular right now.
- Poor body mechanics during phone use – We are all guilty for it!
- Bent elbows- People commonly report experiencing their ring finger and pinky “falling asleep” while using their phones. This is due to the nerve at your elbow or wrist being compressed.
- Fingers and wrists being held in provocative positions.
- Shoulders and neck hunched over (known as “Text neck” or “Tech neck”).
- Use of your phone while laying on the couch or leaning on a table/desk.
Ways to prevent pain related to smartphone use:
- Decrease the amount of time spent using/holding your cell phone. If you must use a cell phone throughout the day, take breaks and switch the hand you are grasping and typing with.
- Make sure your next phone is the right size for your hands. If you find yourself struggling to get your fingers across the screen or your hand around the back of your phone, consider getting a smaller version of your phone. Unless you have larger hands, avoid the “Plus” or “XL” versions of phones.
- Research cell phone gripping devices such as PopSocket, Loopy Cases, straps, handles, etc. to decrease the stress put on your fingers and hands while grasping your smartphone.
- Avoid over-using your thumbs. Switch to holding the phone in one hand while using your index finger of the opposite hand to type.
- Utilizing the talk to text feature.
- Avoid excessively bending your elbows and wrists while using your smartphone.
- Avoid extreme positions while using your device such as laying in your couch or bed.
- Turn off notifications on your phone so that you are not constantly drawn to check your phone.
If you find yourself in situation where you are noticing pain throughout one or both of your arms, know we are here to help! Find your local Axes Hand Therapist for a free consultation to help guide you in finding ways to both prevent pain and reduce any symptoms you may be experiencing. We understand this may be impacting your day-to-day life, so don’t wait! We are here to help.
Contributing Author: Mackenzie Auten (OT Student) and Laura Jenkins, MS, OTR/L
Brown, E. (2019). Americans spend far more time on their smartphones than they think [web log]. Retrieved from https://www.zdnet.com/article/americans-spend-far-more-time-on-their-smartphones-than-they-think/.
(2021). Apple iPhone Size Chart [web log]. Retrieved from https://size-charts.com/topics/screen-size-charts/apple-iphone-size/