Is texting ruining our hands and wrists?

More than three million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome are diagnosed each year in the United States. It’s the most common condition hand and micro surgery specialist Dr. Greg Kolovich treats at Optim Orthopedics.

Still, there is no single cause as to what exactly leads to carpal tunnel syndrome

Dr. Greg Kolovich, hand and micro surgery specialist at Optim Orthopedics

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the median nerve that runs from your forearm into the palm of your hand gets compressed at the wrist. The median nerve and several tendons run from your forearm to your hand through a small space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel.

Carpal tunnel symptoms include weakness, numbness or tingling or burning sensations in the fingers. Women are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel than men, and the condition usually only occurs in adults.

Most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome have no specific cause. However, some contributing factors include frequent, repetitive movements with the hands, such as typing on a keyboard or texting on your smartphone.

It’s a hot debate among physicians right now: is texting causing damage to our hands and wrists?

Dr. Kolovich has read hundreds of articles on carpal tunnel syndrome that examine repetitive movement, vibration and trauma as possible risk factors for carpal tunnel.

“All in all, I think carpal tunnel is a mechanical compression. It has to do with the ligament being there in a limited amount of space in the carpal tunnel, but it can be exacerbated by all kinds of things,” Dr. Kolovich says. “I don’t think there’s anything that truly causes it. If you are doing a lot of repetitive movement at your desk or texting or talking it can exacerbate it. Certainly trauma, falls that result in numbness in their hands can make matters worse.”

Technology’s role in hand, wrist problems

As society acclimates to advances in technology chances are new injuries will develop, Dr. Kolovich believes. For example, sports injuries, like rotator cuff syndrome, came about as sports were invented and played more frequently.

“As we adapt, we are putting more and more stress on our joints, and as we do so, we are creating more problems for ourselves,” Kolovich says. “Plus we are living longer. As we put more and more demands on our hands and wrists and as we live longer and do things that we really aren’t developed for, we are going to find all kinds of new problems.”

“Texting Thumb” is a layman’s term used to describe pain in the thumb some believe occurs due to texting, typing or gaming. Dr. Kolovich says texting thumb can be a number of medical conditions including De Quervain’s tenosynovisits – a painful condition that affects the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist – or basil thumb arthritis – the wearing away of the cartilage in the joint at the base of the thumb.

“The point is anytime you text repeatedly or put continuous stress on your thumb, the joint takes a beating which puts a lot of sheer stress on that cartilage, especially if you are moving your thumb in and out,” Dr. Kolovich says.

Regardless of how often or not you text, type on a keyboard or play video games, as we live longer we become more susceptible to hand and wrist pain. Some people may go their whole lives and not notice or have any symptoms, but Dr. Kolovich believes everyone gets a certain amount of compression on hand and wrist nerves, tendons and ligaments due to the confined space.

The good news is conditions like carpal tunnel are easy to fix so people can quickly return to their quality of life, Dr. Kolovich says. Treatment may include rest, ice, wrist splints, cortisone injections or surgery. Dr. Kolovich says surgery last about five minutes and you can drive yourself home afterwards.

So we don’t have to put down our smartphones just yet. But like anything, moderation may not be a bad idea.

“I would never tell somebody to stop doing something that makes them happy,” Dr. Kolovich says. “Understand that when there’s new technology there’s going to be a new set of problems. Like anything, you can’t go throw 18 innings in a row; your body needs rest. You can’t text 18 hours a day; your body needs rest. Putting it down and understanding there are limits and thresholds for everything is important.”

If you experience any pain within your hand, wrist or elbow, Dr. Kolovich can help. He can be reached at Optim Orthopedics at 800-827-6536.

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