Smart phone users may be vulnerable to thumb pain

We are constantly typing, texting, scrolling, swiping.

And Emory orthopedic surgeon Dr. Eric Wagner, who specializes in hand, elbow and shoulder surgeries, says we may be setting ourselves up to a high-tech hand injury, especially when it comes to our thumbs.

"Whether texting or calling people or playing video games, you can imagine, the more you're using your thumb, the more stress you're putting on it, the more symptomatic it's going to be," Dr. Wagner says.

He says he and his colleagues at Emory Orthopedics are seeing a jump in younger patients coming in with problems, like trigger thumb, tendonitis in the base of the thumb, and arthritis in the thumb joint.

Wagner says our thumbs were not designed for the kind of wear and tear we're putting them through on our smartphones.

He says the stress on the thumb joints may be speeding up the development of arthritis, or a wearing away of the cartilage in the thumb joint.

"You'll start feeling more and more pain with daily activities, sometimes associated with weather changes," Wagner says, talking about the wearing down of the cartilage in the thumb joint. "It will start to have some night pain, and then usually after the night pain is when people really start to feel it during the day."

Dr. Wagner believes these injuries may stem from digital overload.

"So, traditionally, all of these used to be in patients who were in their 50's and 60's and had worked their whole lives, maybe their parents had had it," Wagner says. "Now we're seeing people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, probably more so than the 50s and 60s."

If you're hurting, Wagner says, try changing how you're using your phone.

"If you're using the thumb further away, it's better than using it right next to it,' he says.

Even better?

Switch from using one thumb, to both thumbs.

You'll not only type faster, you'll take some of the wear and tear off your thumbs, he says.