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Kim Kardashian shook us earlier this summer by declaring that she doesn’t really like to take selfies anymore. Then on this week’s episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, we learned that the woman who literally wrote the book on selfies had to stop taking them after she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Her doc even called it “selfie wrist.” Does that mean that we’re all in danger of damaging our hands and wrists for the sake of social media?
“What we know for certain is that cell phones have nothing to do with causing carpal tunnel syndrome, not a single thing,” Leon Benson, MD, a hand surgeon at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Benson says it isn’t reaching for the perfect angle itself that makes people experience the pain, tingling, and burning associated with carpal tunnel, but rather that repetitive actions like using a phone can aggravate an existing problem.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the nerve that goes from the forearm to the hand is compressed by swollen tendons or other swelling. Injury to the wrist, rheumatoid arthritis, an overactive pituitary gland, or an underactive thyroid gland might cause this, while repetitive motions or fluid retention might “contribute” to the compression. Annoyingly, the NINDS says, the cause often can’t be identified.
But while Benson is reluctant to blame cell phones themselves, he does say that our tendency to hold our devices for long periods of time without movement is bound to cause problems, especially in anyone with a predisposition for them.
“Your elbow is not designed to be flexed for an hour at a time,” Benson says. “Movement is life, and your body is designed to be moved around. Even when you sleep and you’re unconscious, your brain has a way of making you move around periodically so you don’t stay in one position all night.”
When we’re glued to Instagram or Twitter, however, we’re too distracted to make those natural shifts in posture that would make us more comfortable.
It follows, then, that the way to avoid triggering carpal tunnel, tendonitis, or “cell phone elbow” would be to move around more, take breaks, and switch up your tasks. These are the same recommendations given to people who do manual labor or sit at computers all day.
If you do experience symptoms such as tingling or numbness in your hands or fingers, you should see a doctor. Treatment for something like carpal tunnel syndrome can involve using a splint and anti-inflammatory drugs, or it might mean surgery.
And while cell phones might not be the culprit destroying our hands, one selfie at a time, Benson does warn that they cause injury in other ways.
“No. 1, in metropolitan areas, no security expert would ever warrant that you should walk around holding your cell phone, because you’re a target for somebody who is trying to rob you because it’s obvious that you’re not paying attention,” he says. “No. 2, people try to operate machinery, specifically cars, while being distracted and kill other people and get killed all the time. The third thing is that cell phones interrupt personal communication and the social structure that usually makes families strong.”
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