Children, teens and adults often spend hours on their smartphones and tablets.
One of the downsides of this habit is that the repetitive and sustained movements of shoulders, neck, elbows and thumbs can cause pain, eyestrain and actual structural changes in joints, muscles, tendons and nails. (I have one permanent ridge in the nail of my right index finger that I can attest to being from my smartphone!) And then, of course, there are side effects of being sedentary and isolated from in-person interaction.
Did you know occupational therapists assess and treat individuals of all ages who experience symptoms from smartphone and tablet use? We use hand therapy, the application of ergonomic principles and cognitive behavioural therapy to help.
Here are some new smartphone terms:
- Smartphone elbow is when your fourth and fifth fingers tingle and feel numb. Your hand may also be weak. It is actually the constant bend in your elbow that causes this symptom in your hand. What to do? Use the speaker phone or a hands free ear device. Change hands when holding the phone to your ear. Stop and stretch every 10 minutes. Set a time so you do so!
- Smartphone neck is when you have neck and shoulder pain, muscle spasms, sometimes along with tingling and numbness in your arms. What to do? Avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. Again, use the speaker phone or a hands free ear device. Stop and stretch every 10 minutes. Set a time so you do so!
- Screen blindness is when your eyes become dry. What to do? Use the largest screen possible. Wear the right corrective lenses. And most importantly, every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at something in the distance. Blink regularly. That goes for laptop screen and desktop monitor use too. See your eye doctor if symptoms persist (that goes for all these symptoms).
- Smartphone nails is when your nails become misshapen or ridged. What do to? Hold the phone in one hand and type with the other. Alternate hands. Use your finger pad, not fingertip to type.
- Smartphone fog is when you put yourself and others at risk by walking or driving while texting or using your smartphone. What to do? Never text and drive. Never text and walk. Have you ever walked into something while texting and walking? I have! Learned my lesson. Did you know that talking and driving, even while using a speakerphone is still risky?
- Smartphone thumb is when your thumb hurts when you move it . You may also have a dull ache at the base of your thumb or it may snap when you move it. What to do? Use one hand to hold the phone and the other hand to type. Alternate hands. Use an external keyboard even for your phone or tablet whenever you can . Use your laptop or desktop with an external keyboard and external mouse instead of your smartphone or tablet. Stop and stretch every 10 minutes. Set a time so you do so!
Be smart with your smartphone and tablet. This is a good rule of thumb that I suggest for any tool or assistive device: use something when it is helpful and allows you to do more, avoid using thing that make you do less.