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How to Prevent Electronic Device Maladies, from Tech Neck to Smartphone Thumb

The next time you’re using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, pay close attention to what you do. Chances are, typing, tapping, and swiping are second nature by now. You’re focused on emailing a coworker, texting a friend, or scrolling through a web page. The last thing you’re thinking about is the repeated strain on your fingers and wrists.

Yet repetitive movements can lead to pain and other bothersome symptoms over time. Eventually, they may damage joints, muscles, or tendons. Meanwhile, you may be bending your head down to see the screen. That’s a common source of neck and shoulder discomfort.

As the use of these devices has skyrocketed, so have aches and pains associated with them. But a few simple changes can reduce the ailments caused by a constantly connected lifestyle.

When Your Posture Is in a Slump

People who spend a lot of time on a tablet or computer sometimes develop neck and shoulder pain due to poor posture. In one study, researchers looked at the seated posture of adult volunteers as they read or typed on tablets. The volunteers tended to tilt their heads downward. This put up to five times more stress on their neck muscles, compared with sitting up straight.

To reduce “tech neck,” become more aware of your posture. Whenever possible, put your computer or propped-up tablet on a table or desk. Ideally, you should position the screen so that you can keep your head level, forward facing, and in-line with your torso. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your elbows should be close to your body, bent at or just a little past 90 degrees. Your forearms, wrists, and hands should be in a straight line roughly parallel to the floor.

This position is more feasible with a traditional desktop computer. When typing on a tablet or small laptop, consider using an unattached keyboard that’s wirelessly connected to your device. And whether you’re using a mobile device while seated or on the go, take frequent breaks.

When Your Mobile Device Is a Pain

Repeating the same movements with your fingers, hands, and wrists for long periods can lead to problems. For example, “smartphone thumb” is caused by typing with your thumb while holding a smartphone or tablet. Possible symptoms include pain when bending your thumb or wrist and a dull ache at the base of your thumb. You may also experience numbness or tingling in the area.

To combat smartphone thumb:

  • Give your thumb a rest. When using a handheld device, hold it in one hand and type with the other index finger.

  • Keep your messages brief. Use the word prediction feature in apps and browsers, which suggests the next word or a long URL after you type a few letters. BTW, using abbreviations helps, too.

  • Use voice-to-text dictation. Or just have a phone conversation now and then instead of always texting.

© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.