Digital Disadvantage: When Technology Hurts
Try getting through one day without a cell phone, BlackBerry or video game. As a wired nation that may be difficult, but some doctors say it could be good for your health.
That’s because regularly texting, playing video games or just holding a cell phone to your ear can actually cause overuse injuries.
“Overuse injuries occur when we repeat a motion so often that the body doesn’t have a chance to recover,” says John Fernandez, MD, a hand and wrist surgeon at Rush University Medical Center.
Go Low-Tech: Solutions for Overused Joints
- Avoid injuries by limiting how often and how long you use electronic devices — less than three minutes at a time for a BlackBerry, for example.
- Use a hands-free device with your cell phone.
- Take frequent breaks to stretch.
- If a joint gets sore, try RICE: Rest and ice the joint, compress it by applying a supportive — or compression — bandage and elevate the joint to reduce swelling.
Although usually resulting from more vigorous activities, such as tennis, overuse injuries can be caused by keeping a joint flexed for a long time or by performing the hundreds of keystrokes involved in using electronic devices.
Over and Over Can Mean Injury
Each year Fernandez and his colleagues see people with the following conditions, and he believes they may see even more injuries as these devices are more commonly used.
BlackBerry thumb. Most people use their thumbs to peck out text messages on handheld devices. Overdoing it can lead to a constriction around a tendon, which makes the thumb curl in on itself. Also called trigger thumb, this condition can cause swelling and a painful popping or snapping in the joint. Splints, therapeutic ultrasound or cortisone injections can help. If not, a 15-minute surgery using local anesthetic can provide relief.
Wii elbow. The Wii game system is played by moving controllers through the air — sometimes very energetically. In fact, Wii elbow is the same as tennis elbow. In severe cases, pain and swelling from this condition can restrict even simple motions of the elbow. Rest, ice and pain relievers can help, or your doctor may recommend physical therapy. If surgery is necessary, it can usually be done as an outpatient procedure.
Cell phone elbow. You often need to keep an elbow tightly flexed to hold a cell phone to your ear, which can eventually cause pressure on a nerve in the elbow called the ulnar nerve. The result can be pain, numbness, tingling in the fingers and hand weakness. If physical therapy doesn’t help, a simple outpatient surgery that repositions the nerve can reduce pressure and tension.
Whether your problem is simple or high-tech, the Hand, Elbow and Shoulder Surgery Program at Rush can help. Call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
Hand, Wrist, Elbow and Shoulder Care
Ranked among the very best orthopedic programs in the country by U.S.News & World Report, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is home to nationally respected orthopedic surgeons who find great reward in the fact that their research, discoveries and leading-edge therapies benefit patients today — not decades from now.
Visit the Hand, Elbow and Shoulder Surgery Program home page for information about corrective surgery for the hand available at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, including inpatient and outpatient surgery for common hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder problems.
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