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Excessive Phone Use Leads To Serious Thumb Injuries

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By Josh Piers - - 5 Mins Read
Doomscrolling is defined as "the urge to continue to surf or scroll through unpleasant news, even when the news is saddening, demoralizing, or depressing," according to Merriam-Webster. This bad habit has rocketed since the arrival of Covid-19, which has brought with it an increase in thumb injuries.

Do you get a sore thumb from scrolling idly on your phone?

If you answered yes, you are not alone. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) in thumbs is becoming increasingly widespread, according to Queensland physiotherapist Lizzy McCowan. She blamed the illness on excessive use of electronic devices. More people are seeking therapy for discomfort related with "doomscrolling," according to Ms McCowan. "We're seeing a lot more injuries come into the clinic from overuse type acts." A number of patients are now presenting with symptoms in their thumb. "And that's all coming from a lot of the scrolling we're doing on our phones and our iPads." Ms. McCowan said that the difficulty was that our thumb muscles were not strong enough to handle the constant scrolling. [caption id="attachment_10795" align="alignleft" width="350"] Physiotherapist Lizzy McCowan says there are some simple things that can be done to prevent thumb pain.[/caption] "When we overload a muscle or a tendon that isn't used to doing that much work," she explained, "the tissue doesn't have that capacity. Then it starts to break down, and we get the pain and inflammation from that thumb, as well as the swelling."

Thumb exercises help prevent strain

There are some simple things people could do to prevent thumb pain. Thumb and wrist pain associated with smartphone use are also common. Often referred to as “text claw”, the repetitive strain injury is caused by the constant bending and small repetitive movements of the thumb against the screen. This appears reversible with reduced use but its prevalence is not known. As such, research suggests holding phones with two hands is preferential, as it shares the workload between hands and reduces the likelihood of permanent changes. Ms McCowan explained, "When you think about the thumb, it does that opposite movement, but it can also go in a lot of various directions." "As you may know, the thumb is extremely versatile and mobile so we think about using a Theraband to strengthen the muscles in the forearm," she explained. "I also enjoy the gripping movement, as well as the similar action with putty. You'd repeat the thumb scroll action, so repeating that direction, but you'd also repeat the other direction." Overuse injuries were more common in people over 40, but physiotherapists also saw them in children. However, the good news is that such injuries are not permanent and may be treated, which usually entails splinting to give the finger a chance to rest and strengthening exercises. The most essential element of the treatment was recommending adults to limit their screen time outside of work to less than two hours per day, and much less for children. People must also alter how they hold their phones.

Maintain good posture while scrolling

[caption id="attachment_10796" align="aligncenter" width="527"] Overuse injuries were more common in those aged over 40.[/caption] Ms McCowan also recommends that you maintain good posture while using your smartphone. "I think that's something we shouldn't disregard on a daily basis," she remarked. "It's something we have to address if you're not looking after your body mechanics and posture for that extended amount of time." She recommends that people take a plank or hover over their gadget, which activates the neck extension muscles and prevents slouching. "Up on your elbows or a hover, as we call it in yoga," Ms McCowan explained, "making sure they're sort of watching or doodling on their iPad in that position."

Negative news has an impact on one's mental health

Excessive use and reliance on our phones, according to psychologist Rachael Sharman, is contributing to an overall lack of activity. "I suppose you know you've gone too far when your thumb feels like it's going to come off," Dr. Sharman added. "If you're on your phone, you're not moving around, you're not doing simple things." "All of this leads to a reduction in physical activity and movement." She believes that continual exposure to unfavorable news online could harm one's mental health. "I believe people simply need to improve their sense of perspective," Dr. Sharman stated. "Whatever they're doing, scrolling that day, just be aware that that's one small part of what's going on in the world, and it's really usually not that bad."