Do you text all the time? Beware, it might harm your wrists
Even as smartphone usage increases across the world, doctors say that excessive texting can lead to numbness in hands and wrists over a period of time.fitness Updated: Jun 26, 2017 13:48 IST
Texting, the thing we do most with our phones, takes a toll on our health. Some doctors point to how smartphone users have reported soreness or numbness in their hands and wrists after texting for an extended period of time. “I think we may see more problems in terms of hand disorders, such as tendinitis, repetitive strain injuries, arthritis, thumb arthritis down the road, and even possibly carpal tunnel syndrome,” said Dr. Sanjeev Kakar, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“Twenty years ago kids were not using handheld devices, and now they’re using them all the time in schools and at home. We may be at the tip of an iceberg, and we’re going to see a cumulative effect,” he said. “I don’t think this will happen if you’ve texted once in your life. I think the process of doing this over 20 to 30 years may lead to having these problems down the road,” he added.
On the other hand, some doctors have noted that there are no official medical diagnoses for technology-related hand and wrist problems, and just because such problems correlate with smartphone use does not mean they are caused by smartphone use. “To date, there really is no specific diagnosis that is caused by either keyboard computer use or smartphone use that we know of. So for example, just because you use smartphones doesn’t mean you’re likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome,” said Dr Aaron Daluiski, a clinician-scientist and surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
“If it were specifically related to cell phone use or smartphone use, we would expect to see a ton of additional patients in our office and doing many more operations per year because of the influx in use of smartphones over the past 10 years or so,” he said. “We’re just not seeing a dramatic uptick in incidence.”
Smartphone usage continues to grow around the world. In a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 72% of Americans, 77% of Australians, 74% of Israelis, 88% of South Koreans and 71% of Spaniards reported owning a smartphone. Yet research has not been clear-cut on whether texting or general computer use are somehow related to hand and wrist problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that occurs when a nerve that runs from your forearm into the palm of your hand gets compressed at the wrist, leading to tingling sensations or itching numbness.
What might contribute to hand problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome? The anatomy of your wrist; pre-existing health problems, such as a previous injury or rheumatoid arthritis; and possibly repetitive motions, like those associated with texting, Kakar said. Often, however, no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can be identified. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 found no association between computer use and new cases of carpal tunnel syndrome.
However, a 2015 study in the Journal of Neurological Scientists suggested that excessive computer use might be a minor risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, a small study published in the journal Muscle and Nerve suggests that using electronic devices for more than five hours a day — compared with using devices for five hours or less — might adversely affect the nerve in your wrist known to play a big role in carpal tunnel syndrome.
The new study involved only 48 adults, 18 to 25 years in age, many of whom actually didn’t report the classic symptoms of carpal tunnel, such as tingling or numbness in the thumb, index and long fingers. Rather, they reported having levels of pain in their hands and wrists.
“Participants were asked about pain levels in our questionnaire, but the physical tests quantified presence of numbness and tingling,” said Peter White, a co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The researchers found that those adults who reported using devices for five or more hours a day more frequently had enlarged and flattened median nerves linked to carpal tunnel syndrome, more frequently had positive clinical tests indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome and more frequently reported hand and wrist pain compared with those who used electronic devices less.
The study has limitations due to its small and relatively homogeneous sample size, self-reported data and relying on physical exams and ultrasound imaging rather than electro diagnostic testing to gauge hand and wrist health, White said. “Therefore, additional exploration may be required for verification of these results,” he said.
For smartphone users who have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome or have some hand or wrist pain, Kakar offered advice. “Rather than texting all the time, you can use the many different voice applications in existence or simply try using different fingers to text,” he said.
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