Is My Phone Bad for My Hands?

Jun 7, 2022

Mike Lee

by Mike Lee
PT, DPT, CHT | North Tucson

Cell phones are just about everywhere these days. Walk into a waiting room or stroll through the airport, and you will primarily see the top of people’s heads as they stare down at their phones. Cell phones are amazing; we text, take pictures, watch videos and movies, email, update our social media, and sometimes we even use them to make calls. Some studies state that we spend an average of just over 5 hours on our phones daily. With all of this screen time, many wonder if there are any health consequences.

Man holding phone with bad posture.

Consequences for Too Much Screen Time

Here is our all too common posture these days: head tilted down, elbows bent and hands gripping our precious smartphone. Postural alignment can be vital to avoiding neck strain, headaches, or pinched nerves in the neck. These nerves travel down the arm, creating numbness and tingling in the fingers and hand. Especially if we are watching movies or videos and maintaining this position for prolonged periods, one solution might be to hold the cell phone higher, in line with the eyes, so the head does not tilt downward. Sustaining this position, however, can cause shoulder pain and discomfort. Instead, if available, try placing your phone on an elevated surface and either using a prop to hold it up for viewing or buy a case with a kickstand.

Do You Have Cell Phone Elbow?

Having the elbows bent at a 90-degree angle or more can be problematic to the ulnar nerve that travels along the inside of the elbow and can cause numbness and tingling in the small and ring fingers. The longer we maintain this position, the more damage we do to our nerves. Typically the symptoms will begin with numbness and tingling only when the elbow is bent, then progress to numbness and tingling even when not in the elbow bent position, until eventually there may be “clawing” of the small finger and ring finger. This is sometimes referred to as “cell phone elbow” but is more commonly called cubital tunnel syndrome. To avoid this position, try the phone propping or kickstand method, so you do not have to hold the phone for prolonged periods.

The small joints of the hand are often vulnerable to repetitive stress and strain. As our phones get bigger and heavier, this increases pressure on the fingers to hold the phone and the repetitive stress on our thumbs to text. This can lead to problems such as aggravation of arthritis, tendonitis, and pain. To counter this, we can use some talk-to-text features on our phones to decrease the need to text.

Reduce stress on your fingers when holding a phone by using a pop socket or a strap.

Problem:

Woman holding cell phone.

Solution:

Woman holding cell phone.

As impressive as phones are, they can be a source of hand pain and dysfunction. If you have any hand pain, numbness, or tingling, it may be related to your phone. The first step in improving your condition would be to try some of these ergonomic tips to decrease the repetitive stress on your arms and hands. If your condition does not improve, consider consulting a Certified Hand Therapist to evaluate your condition and discuss a treatment program and exercises that will help you return to your normal activities without pain or limitation.

Schedule a free assessment at any of the following hand clinics:

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