Is My Phone Bad for My Hands?


Man using a smart phone.

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 into their phone. Cell phones are amazing, we use them to text, take pictures, watch videos and movies, do our 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 on a daily basis (Source: ZD Net).  With all of this screen time, one might wonder if there are any health consequences.  To answer this question, let us take a deeper dive.

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 key to avoiding neck strain, headaches, or pinched nerves in the neck.  These nerves travel down the arm and can create numbness and tingling in the fingers and hand.  Especially, if we are watching movies or videos and maintaining this position for prolonged periods of time.  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 are doing 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 that 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 places increased stress on the fingers to hold the phone in addition to 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 of the talk-to-text features on our phones to decrease the need to text.  There are also a few options in regards to decreasing stress on the fingers when holding the phone such as using a pop socket or a strap.

Problem:

Woman holding cell phone.

Solution:

Woman holding cell phone.

As amazing as phones are, they can be a source of hand pain and dysfunction.  If you are having any hand pain or 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 be able to return to your normal activities without pain or limitation.

Follow the links below to schedule a free assessment at any of our three hand clinics:

NORTH TUCSON

https://proactivept.com/find-a-location/north-tucson

EAST TUCSON

https://proactivept.com/find-a-location/east-tucson

CENTRAL TUCSON

https://proactivept.com/find-a-location/central-tucson


Mike Lee

PT, DPT, CHT | North Tucson

ProActive Physical Therapy is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).