“Text neck” (or “tech neck”) isn’t the only body ailment that’s sprung up as a result of our collective addiction to smartphones. If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced cramping, stiffness, or even hand pain after a long day of typing, tapping, and scrolling on your devices.
Some call the issue “texting thumb,” since it’s generally the most affected digit. Others refer to it as “text claw,” which makes sense when you picture the shape of your hand clutching your phone, with the phone removed from the frame.
And while the time we spend emailing and texting on social sharing on tiny screens is pretty new, the fact that tiny, repetitive motions cause strain is anything but. In the past, kids developed similar issues from playing Nintendo and for Blackberry users, “Blackberry thumb” was a real thing.
Oh, and of course there’s the problem’s most analog ancestor: writer’s cramp.
Here’s what you need to know, and how to fix it, if your hands are throbbing.
Tech Hand Pain, Explained
Good news: While a cramped hand is a (literal) pain, evidence so far points to the fact that in a vast majority of cases, it’s not a major long-term health issue.
Experts say for most people, your thumb or overall hand hurts because of what they call “repetitive strain.” Yeah, basically you keep doing the same thing over and over and over a million times every single day and your digits are tired. (I mean, think about how sore your triceps get after a tough strength-training class. Now imagine doing tricep dips all day long without stopping…) “Too much typing can overuse the thumb’s tendons, causing tendonitis, or inflammation, which can lead to aching, cramping and throbbing in the area,” explains one expert on Today.com.
In some cases, especially if you also feel it in your wrist and elbow, hand pain could be a symptom of carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome. Those syndromes are not generally caused by smartphone use, but if you’re predisposed to them, excessive Instagram scrolling could make things much worse.
What to do about it
If it’s really serious (as in painful and won’t go away and it’s spreading up your arm), go to the doctor, please! But in most cases, experts’ advice is pretty simple. In fact, most offer the most annoying tip, first:
1. Stop texting! (I know, thanks.) But really, resting your hands is one of the only ways to make a real difference. Take regular breaks from holding your phone, and maybe try making Siri work a little harder?
2. Stretch your hands. This really helps. I take regular moments throughout the day to stop and do these simple finger and wrist stretches, and it feels soooo good.
3. Ice, ice baby. Just like you’d ice a sore ankle after a jogging mishap, you can ice your wrists and hands if they’re feeling really inflamed. Simple but effective.
4. Get High. Just kidding. But CBD oil (or hemp oil) gives you medicinal, anti-inflammatory benefits, without getting you stoned, I promise. If it’s legal where you are, I highly recommend (great for anxiety too, which might be helpful as you’re scrolling through Instagram.. Here’s our primer on CBD, and a few CBD products we love.
4. Adjust your grip. Many experts say holding your phone a certain way is not going to help, but a few offer recommendations, and hey, it’s worth a shot? One recommendation I found was to hold your arm as straight as possible, leaving as little bend in your elbow as you can. (Put your glasses on, because this method means that phone is going to be far from your face.) And another is to buy a bulky case for your phone, since your thumb has to stretch less if the device is thicker.
Here’s to pain-free tapping and swiping.
Do you have other tricks for dealing with tech-related hand pain? Share your secrets in the comments below!