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Health Information Digital Disadvantage: When Technology Hurts

Try getting through one day without talking on your cell phone, texting or playing video games. 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.

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.

High-Tech Injuries
Each year Fernandez and his colleagues see more and more people with the following conditions:

  • Texting 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. To prevent this problem, use a hands-free device whenever possible.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • The Hand, Elbow and Shoulder Surgery Program at Rush is Illinois’ only dedicated program for hand, elbow and shoulder care. The program consists of expert surgeons experienced in microsurgery and reconstructive surgery. The team at Rush also includes occupational and physical therapists who specialize in rehabilitation of the hand and upper extremities.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)
  • Stay in touch with Rush with Rush Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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