Smartphones have put the world at our fingertips. It’s never been easier to connect with family and friends, to say nothing of delving into the latest recipes, online photos, and cool word games. Unfortunately, because of repetitive usage, screen breakage, larger screen sizes or simply mishandling the technology, all of that connecting can lead to smartphone hand injuries. Today, Dr. Donnelly discusses five cell phone hand injuries that are becoming more widespread – and what you can do about them.
Our mobile devices have been growing larger over the last few years, and that can lead to hand issues for some users. How you handle something like the bulky Samsung Galaxy Note 7, for instance, can lead to dented, calloused or painful pinky fingers.
Continuous or long standing pressure over the skin can cause local tissue to harden and form a scar, similar to the callouses we would see from holding a pencil. Also the inside area of the finger where these larger phones rest have nerves that are in a more superficial and as such are vulnerable to compression leading to numbness and tingling in the finger.
The most effective treatment for smartphone pinkie is prevention. Avoiding this might just be a matter of changing the position of your hand at a more regular interval.
Text claw isn’t a smartphone-specific condition, but it seems to be a growing issue in the texting and social-media age. Pain and cramping in the fingers, typically called “text claw” today, is a repetitive strain injury that’s actually been around at least since the typewriter era.
Among the methods of treating this and other smartphone hand injuries is immobilization with a brace, which gives users an opportunity to explore the growing number of hands-free options. Relief may also be found through massaging or stretching the hand. There’s also the option of simply not using your phone so frequently. Most phones have built-in options meant to help us with screen-time limiting.
Finger Cuts and Glass Slivers
Some problems with a cracked smartphone screen are obvious: Those fissures make it pretty hard to read everything as you scroll through your feed. There can be touchscreen malfunctions, and you may lose the water-resistant properties everyone counts on out by the pool. But there’s something more personal at stake here, too: The risks of finger cuts or slivers from the glass on the outward-facing side of every phone.
When you move your finger across these cracks, tiny slivers of glass can break off and puncture your skin. Small shards can also come off and end up in your purse, pocket or backpack, creating another potential avenue of injury. In at least one case, a person nearly lost their thumb to infection.
Cracked phone screens should be immediately replaced, when possible. There are also some screen-protector options that could help in the meantime.
Cell Phone Elbow
Keyboard users have long complained about carpal-tunnel syndrome, but it’s not the only nerve-compression issue associated with repetitive motion. Smartphone users also need to be aware of the risk of cubital-tunnel syndrome. Commonly referred to as “cell phone elbow” nowadays, this condition involves pain and in the elbow and tingling or numbness in the forearm and hand (ring and pinky fingers) – rather than the wrist pain and thumb and index numbness which would be more consistent with a carpal-tunnel syndrome.
“Cell phone elbow is caused by prolonged bending, which many users do while watching the latest viral video, scrolling through continuous social-media content, or streaming television and music.”Brandon P. Donnelly, MD
Cell phone elbow is caused by prolonged bending of the elbow, which can compress or stretch the ulnar nerve (funny bone). Many users do this while watching the latest viral video, scrolling through continuous social-media content, or streaming television and music. Warding it off could be as easy as switching hands more often or taking advantage of the hands-free features on your phone, or using a pillow/pad to prop up device.
Many people only use one digit while texting, or while responding to social media posts and emails while on their phone. That can lead to a cell phone hand injury known as “texting thumb.” Simply holding your mobile device too tightly can, too.
A risk factor in both situations is the more serious diagnosis of trigger thumb, where phone users experience painful snapping or popping when bending the digit. Others might develop painful arthritis in the thumb. As with almost every cell phone hand injury, however, the solution typically comes down to learning changed behaviors: Don’t leave all the work to your thumbs; text with your fingers sometimes, too.
Have Smartphone Hand Injuries Evaluated
Injuries from overuse or cracked cell phone screens can lead to real hand, wrist, and elbow problems. If you think you or someone you know may have one of the smartphone hand injuries we discussed today, please contact our office to schedule an evaluation with Dr. Donnelly.
About Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly, MD
Dr. Brandon P. Donnelly is a board certified orthopedic surgeon with Pontchartrain Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Donnelly completed his hand and microsurgery fellowship at the prestigious Philadelphia Hand to Shoulder Center. Dr. Donnelly treats all ages of patients in the greater New Orleans area for hand, wrist, and elbow conditions.
This site is not intended to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this website and links to other websites, Brandon P. Donnelly, MD provides general information for educational purposes only. The content provided in this website and links, is not a substitute for medical care or treatment. You should not use this information in place of a consultation or the advice of your healthcare provider. Brandon P. Donnelly, MD is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.