With the holiday season in full-swing and smart phones topping many Christmas wish lists, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is offering some advice for the smart use of smart phones.
"If you have a smart phone, chances are you've spent hours discovering all of the many ways that it can be used," explained Occupational Therapist Chessie Navyac, OTR/L. "Smart phones today are used for more than communication, and have a wide array of apps available for gaming, information retrieval and social media. However, as more people use smart phones and other forms of technology for social networking, e-mailing and texting, they're developing aches and pains that were unheard of years ago.
"If you use your phone a great deal, it may require frequent, repetitive movements of the shoulders, neck, elbow and thumbs. This can create pain and even structural changes in your joints, muscles, tendons and nails, in addition to straining your eyes.
"As technology advances and our lives become seemingly easier, we are discovering that the devices intended to help us also have the potential to impact us physically. New repetitive injuries are being identified, such as iPod finger, cell phone elbow and smart phone thumb, which have the potential to cause discomfort or lead to long-term health consequences."
Common New Ailments
Smart Phone Thumb: Caused by repeatedly pressing a small keyboard and sustained, awkward positioning of the hands and thumbs while typing. Symptoms may include discomfort or pain in the wrist and thumb when bending either toward the small finger. A person may also have a dull aching pain in the base of the thumb or pain and snapping in the thumb upon bending or straightening it.
- Prevention: "Use one hand to secure the phone and use the index finger of your other hand to type," Chessie advised. "Keep your messages short, and use word prediction, abbreviations, and pre-typed messages whenever possible. Avoid multiple Internet searches and limit your time spent playing games using a small keyboard. If possible, use a plug in keyboard to increase the size of the keyboard and use multiple fingers."
Cell Phone Elbow: Caused by continually bending the elbow to hold the phone to your ear.
Symptoms include tingling and numbness into the little finger and possible weakness of the hand.
- Prevention: "Use the speakerphone feature or hands-free ear device when feasible to avoid bending your elbow," she added. "Change hands frequently during extended conversations without a hands-free device."
Cell Phone Neck: Caused by prolonged head tilting and raising your shoulder to your ear to secure your phone while talking. Symptoms include muscle pain and spasms in your neck and shoulders, with possible tingling and numbness into your arms.
- Prevention: Do not cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder. Use the speakerphone feature or a hands-free ear device.
PDA Nails: Caused by continually pressing the keypad with your fingertips, which puts pressure on the nail bed. Symptoms include misshapen and ridged thumb nails.
- Prevention: Hold the phone in one hand and type with the other. Keep your nails short and use the fleshy pad of your index finger-not your fingertip-to type.
Cellular Blindness: Caused by looking at a small screen for a long time. Symptoms include dry eyes.
- Prevention: "Increase the screen's font size and contrast, and use an easy-to-read font, without italics," Chessie said. "Try to purchase a phone with the largest screen possible. Every 20 minutes or so, look at an object at least 20 feet away to refocus your eyes, and be sure to blink regularly to moisten your eyes. Avoid using a phone with a small screen as your primary tool for Internet searches, e-mails, and texts."
Other Injury Prevention Tips
"To prevent smart phone and other technology-related injuries, limit your time using keyboards each day," Chessie concluded. "Be selective in returning e-mails and text messages using your smart phone. If you feel discomfort or pain, stop and rest your hands. Gently stretch your thumbs, fingers, and wrists. Use ice packs as soon as discomfort or pain appears, to reduce inflammation.
"When the computer mouse came along, work that people did with two hands became concentrated into a few fingers. With the advent of smart phone keypads, that effort is now being directed into one lone digit, which is not designed to do so much work."
Other prevention tips include:
-?Maintain a neutral posture. Some thumb and elbow pain is caused by holding the joint in a fixed or awkward position for a long time. You may be able to alleviate it by sitting or standing correctly as you type.
- Support your arms. If you're sitting to type emails or text for an extended time, use a pillow or other prop to support your arms and hands while you work.
-Take frequent breaks to give your hands a rest.
-Switch things up. If you normally use one hand to type or text, give it a break and type with the other one.
- Do stretching exercises. One example is to open your hands and spread your fingers as far as is comfortable, then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat several times. Another exercise involves keeping the hands laced together, and turning the palms away from your body and extending your arms overhead. Stretch your upper torso through your shoulders to your hands. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat several times.
Chessie Navyac, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's Rehabilitation Services Department, located in the Salem Medical Center at 2094 East State Street in Salem, 330-332-7297.