If you spend time with me, one of the things that may surprise you is my phone. I do not have a fancy smartphone or even a Blackberry or other PDA. My phone is a 2005 model that hardly holds a charge and cannot send or receive texts.
You may be thinking, why? After all, I am successful physical therapist with a thriving business, should I not be able to afford a new phone?
The answer is because I value my thumbs. In my practice I have noticed that tendonitis of the thumb is a condition that is on the rise. Without fail, the patients who come to my practice week after week with this diagnosis are the same ones who are addicted to their handheld devices. Hand therapy is becoming one of my most widely requested services.
There is a very good reason for this. The thumb is controlled by two tendons that pass through a sheath located at the base of the hand. From there they travel past the wrist, up the arm and into the forearm. This particular tendon is easily irritated by repetitive action of the thumb, and texting or playing games on a smartphone definitely falls into the definition for this type of repetitive action.
The number of cases of this condition is rising with the popularity of these mobile devices. While we used to treat only avid gamers for thumb tendonitis, now it is the average individual coming to us for help. Everyone is at risk – from the mom who is glued to her phone while caring for her kids to the teenager who treats the phone like an extension of himself.
Now, other tasks also call on the thumb repeatedly, but the difference is in the workload and how it is distributed to the various joints. When you fold laundry, not only are your hands involved, but also your wrists, elbow and shoulder. This is not the case when you text.
See, texting only involves the thumb joint and fingers. The rest of the arm does not move. Even though the “work” is not difficult, this repeated movement from the thumb and hand is very irritating to these tendons. With time, doing the same movement over and over causes these tendons to become inflamed, resulting in tendonitis, a painful condition that requires physical therapy and may even require rest and immobilization of the joint.
Pain in the thumb joint, especially with movement, is the most common symptom of this condition. The pain likely increases with use, and it may diminish when the joint is resting. Sometimes, swelling at the joint can also occur.
Patients who notice this pain in their thumbs can help themselves by removing some of the load on the thumb joint. Braces, called “thumb spicas,” that hold the thumb joint still can provide some relief. However, if your condition is caused by texting, the easiest solution is to just cut back significantly on the texting as well as playing games on your phone or writing emails via your smartphone.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com (click here) or call them at 202-223-8500.