Put. The. Phone. Down. (Photo: Summer Skyes 11/Flickr)
Candy Crushers beware: Your gaming habit could be hazardous to your health.
A southern California man recently discovered how dangerous his phone use could be when he ruptured the tendon in his left thumb after gaming for six to eight weeks straight.
The 29-year-old man is the subject of a shocking new case study in JAMA Internal Medicine, which detailed the development of chronic pain in his left thumb due to his constant gaming. He also experienced a significant drop in range of motion in his thumb and had to have surgery to fix the issue.
“We were surprised this happened,” study author Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, who is the Head of Addictions & Resilience Research for the U.S. Navy in the Department of Mental Health, tells Yahoo Health.
While this particular case study may seem a little extreme, it should actually serve as a warning for all of us. Doan says this can happen to anyone with a smartphone, whether they’re constantly gaming, emailing, or texting.
According to research, we’re increasingly becoming reliant on our phones. A recent British study found that we pick up our phones more than 1,500 times a week, and a new Pew research study found that 46 percent of smartphone users say they “couldn’t live without” their phones — that’s way up from the 29 percent who reported the same sentiment in 2012. Pew also discovered that 97 percent of smartphone users text, making our thumbs very busy on a daily basis.
Board-certified orthopaedic surgeon Rachel Rohde, MD, who was not involved in the recent study, tells Yahoo Health that she’s never seen a tendon rupture from gaming or smartphone use, but she has seen a “good share” of related issues. “Some people have pain in their hands and wrists and, when asked, admit to texting hundreds of times a day,” she says.
People can also experience chronic numbness in their pinkies while using tablets because keeping the elbow bent for a long time stretches the ulnar nerve (a.k.a. the funny bone) behind the elbow and causes these symptoms, says Rohde.
According to Annette Marshall Franey, a physical therapist practicing in New York, our thumbs just weren’t made for texting or gaming. “The thumb is designed best for bending toward the palm,” she tells Yahoo Health. The lateral motion required by smartphone use is unnatural for our thumbs, which is why we can develop problems from overuse.
Unfortunately, any pain you may develop from texting too much typically won’t just disappear if you keep up the same frequency, says New York City-based physical therapist Evie Vlahakis. She’s also seen an increase in device-related hand injuries among her patients, and notes that there are a growing number of certified hand therapists to meet the need.
Vlahakis says the hand injuries from smartphone use typically build over time. Most of the time, you’ll experience inflammation first, which can become chronic if it’s ignored. If you notice pain in your thumb, she recommends resting and icing it, and using an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
It also doesn’t hurt to elevate your arms on pillows or a chair to support their weight, she says. Most importantly, you should try to cut back on how much you’re using your phone. For example, if you’ve been frequently texting for a half-hour at a time, try to cut back to 15-minute increments and take a break in between. If that still doesn’t help, it may be time to see your doctor.
Of course, sometimes using your phone less isn’t an option, especially if you use it for work. In that case, Doan recommends switching up the fingers you use (but stresses that cutting back on smartphone use is the best course of action).
So, how much can we get away with without getting injured? We don’t know yet — Doan says more research is needed in order to pin down an exact number.
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