NYACK, N.Y. -- Injuries to hands, wrists and elbows have become increasingly common as people use smartphones, tablets and other digital devices for many hours a day. However, according to the director of orthopedic surgery at Nyack Hospital, Dr. Jason Fond, users can avoid developing or worsening these injuries by taking simple steps.
“We started seeing patients coming in with hand and wrist overuse injuries when the BlackBerry became popular years ago,” said Fond, who is board certified in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. “Now, people use cell phones and tablets for all aspects of their work and social lives. We are seeing many cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, caused by overuse of tendons and muscles in the hand, arm and wrist.” What often starts as a minor irritation can end up as a major health issue if a person continues to use their devices without breaks.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful, progressive condition that can cause tingling or numbness in the hand and wrist. The condition is caused by placing pressure on a nerve which runs from the forearm into the palm, through a small space in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel. Additionally, neck and back strain can also result from hunching over a phone or tablet for long periods of time.
To avoid injury due to digital device overuse, Fond recommends following these steps:
- Limit screen time.
- Take regular breaks.
- Gently stretch your wrists and neck.
- Change your body position often.
- Stand up and walk around every half hour.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your body, with your hands, wrists, forearms and thighs parallel.
- Adjust your chair height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are equal to, or slightly lower than, your hips.
If hands, wrists or arms hurt from device overuse, using tools that reduce typing -- such as voice texting or emailing -- can help. "A brace can be used on the wrist, elbow or hand to provide support, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can be taken to reduce inflammation and pain," said Fond.
However, if a simple over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen doesn’t take care of the problem, it’s time to consult a doctor. "If the pain is affecting job performance, a patient should seek a medical evaluation," said Fond. "The quicker an issue is addressed, the sooner the symptoms can be reversed or made better. It can also reduce the risk of the problem extending to other areas such as the shoulder."
When a patient comes to him complaining of pain related to digital device overuse, Fond generally advises attempting to modify usage of the device for a period of one to two weeks. In other cases, physical therapy to increase flexibility and strengthen tendons may also provide relief. As a last resort, surgery can be used to repair a damaged tendon.
“When a person undergoes surgery, they require a period of rehabilitation that includes rest and avoiding use of digital devices,” said Fond. “I tell patients if they modify their behavior before their problem becomes too severe, they can avoid surgery and rehab.”
For more information on the services provided by Nyack Hospital, click here.