Sudden Wrist Pain? Might Be Smartphone Tendonitis

Nov 17, 2023 | Body, College Health

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More than 6.4 billion people throughout the world own smartphones, making it easy to stay connected. While there are many benefits to smartphone use, it can also pose problems — including to your physical health.

Many people are experiencing a condition experts have dubbed “smartphone tendonitis,” which is a form of tendonitis that can develop from overuse of handheld devices, like a smartphone. But don’t think you need to ditch your smartphone. There are ways you can help prevent this painful condition while still getting your digital fix.

What Is Smartphone Tendonitis?

When you use your smartphone frequently, your thumb, wrist and forearm are put to work. Making repetitive swiping and typing motions can aggravate the thumb flexor tendon, causing pain and swelling. Over time, a condition called “trigger thumb” can result, leading to locking or popping of the thumb.

Additionally, holding your smartphone for a long time can bend your wrist in an unusual angle. This angle can eventually irritate the tendons in the wrist and forearm and cause smartphone tendonitis, a form of a painful condition known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis which causes swelling of the tendons connecting to the base of the thumb.

If you have smartphone tendonitis, you will likely feel tenderness and pain along the side of the wrist under the thumb. You might notice this most when you are:

  • Moving your thumb
  • Forming a fist
  • Gripping an object
  • Turning your wrist
  • Lifting something in a way that puts your arms in front of you and your thumbs pointed upward

Other Digital Injuries

Smartphone tendonitis isn’t the only danger of frequent use of handheld devices. Many people spend hours every day looking down at a smartphone, tablet or other devices. Poor posture and overuse can lead to:

  • Pain in the arm, shoulder or neck as a result of straining the muscles
  • Eye strain, which can cause problems with eyesight over time

Healing and Prevention

If you notice symptoms of smartphone tendonitis, changing the way you hold your smartphone can help. For example, you can try using your index finger to text and swipe instead of your thumb.

If pain persists, it’s a good idea to visit your healthcare provider, who can diagnose the problem and offer treatment options, such as:

  • Wearing a removable splint that keeps your wrist straight and your thumb in a comfortable position
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to relieve pain and swelling
  • Getting corticosteroid injections
  • Having surgery on the affected area

Taking steps to avoid new or worsening problems is essential to avoid long-term issues. Practice good posture when you use your smartphone, keeping the device at eye level to avoid the need to look down. Holding your smartphone in a different way can also help avoid problems, as well as simply cutting back on the amount of time you spend using your smartphone every day.

Have symptoms of tendonitis? Make an appointment with a provider who can help. Find a provider today.

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