A “Candy Crush” freak, 30-year-old Arjun had been feeling pain and numbness in his thumb and index finger for some months now. Most of his free time went into playing games and texting messages on smartphone.
Unable to understand the cause behind his misery, he sought medical help. Dr Maninder Shah Singh, senior orthopaedic surgeon from the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in New Delhi, diagnosed him with early carpal tunnel syndrome where the median nerve in the wrist gets compressed when constantly in a bent position.
“On prodding him further, the culprit was found to be an excessive smartphone user. Arjun improved with treatment that included restriction of smartphone use, hand and wrist exercises and physiotherapy,” Dr Singh told IANS.
Seeing youngsters buried into smartphones and tablets for hours at a stretch is now a common sight in India. Little do they know that the addiction can cause repetitive strain injury to hand joints.
“It can cause injury to the tendons and muscles supporting the thumb and the fingers as well as the wrist. In the long run, it can affect the flexibility of the thumb and the fingers,” explains Dr Rajeev K Sharma, senior consultant (orthopaedic and joint replacement) at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
According to Dr Pradeep Moonot, orthopedic (foot and ankle) from Breach Candy Hospital Trust in Mumbai, excessive smartphone use can lead to injuries that cause strain and stress from repetitive motion.
“This can also lead to tendinitis of finger and wrist and arthritis of the thumb joints,” Dr Moonot said.
The thumb has to move in an awkward manner on the smartphone. “This can lead to soreness in the thumb called ‘Blackberry thumb’. Tip of the finger soreness is also an issue. Inappropriate placement of the hand and shoulder can also cause pain in the shoulder and neck,” he warns.
Dr Ramneek Mahajan, director (orthopedics and joint replacement) at Saket City Hospital in the Capital, blames wrong hand postures.
“This includes tilting hands too far inward or outward while tapping or putting force on the wrists while typing on smartphone,” he says.
According to senior orthopedic Dr Raju Vaishya from Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, people who frequently use their thumbs to type texts can develop de Quervain syndrome – a painful affliction that involves the tendons that move the thumb.
“Although the causal link is not as well established as in patients who suffer from pain from prolonged desktop keyboard use, there is little doubt that overzealous texting can cause debilitating pain,” he stresses.
Dr Rajeev Thukral, senior consultant (orthopedics) at Max Hospital in Saket, feels that smartphone addiction has made young Indians vulnerable to more stressed injuries. “It can also lead to pain in other body parts like elbows and shoulders because when you overuse, the body tends to get tired which leads to pain,” he told IANS.
Dr Moonot is seeing more young people with such complaints. “As soon as the time spent on the phone or gaming is reduced, the symptoms do get relieved. The assessment of work and home-related psychological stress is also important to see if these are contributing factors as well,” he emphasises.
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ishwar Bohra from BLK Super Speciality Hospital has also seen a spurt in youngsters coming to him with hand and wrist pain.
“I frequently treat youngsters in their twenties suffering from de Quervain syndrome, tennis elbow and cervical spondylosis owing to the excessive use of mobile phones,” he told IANS.
The best way is to strike a balance between excessive use of technology and a healthy life.
“While in most cases, medication, rest and some exercises can treat the disorder, in extreme cases, surgical intervention may be necessitated. So, do not let technology get the better of you,” Dr Sharma advises.
There are some special apps like SwiftKey and Swype that help reduce the need to type.
SwiftKey uses a blend of artificial intelligence technologies that enable it to predict the next word the user intends to type. Swype is a virtual keyboard for touchscreens where the user enters words by sliding a finger or stylus from the first letter of a word to its last letter, lifting words in between.
Stretching exercises of the wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck will also help prevent or alleviate the symptoms, the expert advises.
“If you feel discomfort, stop and rest and do stretching exercises. Change hands frequently on prolonged use. Use hands-free devices more,” says Dr Singh.
Last piece of advice: Give Candy Crush some rest and try to take a nap as you travel.