Seeing youngsters buried into smartphones or tablets for hours at a stretch is now a common sight in India. Little do they know that their smartphone addiction can cause repetitive strain injury to hand joints.
Dr. Rajeev K Sharma, senior consultant (orthopedic and joint replacement) at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, said, "It can cause injury to the tendons and muscles supporting the thumb and the fingers as well as the wrist. In the long run, it can affect the flexibility of the thumb and the fingers."
Dr. Pradeep Moonot, orthopedic (foot and ankle) from Breach Candy Hospital Trust in Mumbai, said, "Excessive smartphone use can lead to injuries that cause strain and stress from repetitive motion. This can also lead to tendinitis of finger and wrist and arthritis of the thumb joints. The thumb has to move in an awkward manner on the smartphone. This can lead to soreness in the thumb called 'Blackberry thumb'. Tip of the finger soreness is also an issue. Inappropriate placement of the hand and shoulder can also cause pain in the shoulder and neck."
Dr. Ramneek Mahajan, director (orthopedics and joint replacement) at Saket City Hospital in Delhi, blames wrong hand postures. He said, "This includes tilting hands too far inward or outward while tapping or putting force on the wrists while typing on smartphone."
Senior orthopedic Dr. Raju Vaishya from Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals said, "People who frequently use their thumbs to type texts can develop de Quervain syndrome - a painful affliction that involves the tendons that move the thumb. Although the causal link is not as well established as in patients who suffer from pain from prolonged desktop keyboard use, there is little doubt that overzealous texting can cause debilitating pain."
Dr. Rajeev Thukral, senior consultant (orthopedics) at Max Hospital in Saket, said, "Smartphone addiction has made young Indians vulnerable to more stressed injuries. It can also lead to pain in other body parts like elbows and shoulders because when you overuse, the body tends to get tired which leads to pain."
Dr. Moonot further added, "As soon as the time spent on the phone or gaming is reduced, the symptoms do get relieved. The assessment of work and home-related psychological stress is also important to see if these are contributing factors as well."
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ishwar Bohra from BLK Super Speciality Hospital has also seen a spurt in youngsters coming to him with hand and wrist pain. He said, "I frequently treat youngsters in their twenties suffering from de Quervain syndrome, tennis elbow and cervical spondylosis owing to the excessive use of mobile phones."
The best way to avoid this is to strike a balance between excessive use of technology and a healthy life. Dr. Sharma advised, "While in most cases, medication, rest and some exercises can treat the disorder, in extreme cases, surgical intervention may be necessitated. So, do not let technology get the better of you."
There are some special apps like SwiftKey and Swype that help reduce one's need to type. While SwiftKey uses a blend of artificial intelligence technologies that enable it to predict the next word the user intends to type, swype is a virtual keyboard for touchscreens where the user enters words by sliding a finger or stylus from the first letter of a word to its last letter, lifting words in between.
Dr. Sharma said, "Stretching exercises of the wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck will also help prevent or alleviate the symptoms." Dr. Singh said, "If you feel discomfort, stop and rest and do stretching exercises. Change hands frequently on prolonged use. Use hands-free devices more."