It’s hard to imagine your day without your smartphone by your side. The use of smartphones has grown rapidly over the last decade. This, coupled with the availability of affordable and practically unlimited internet data packs has contributed to people spending a significant part of their day browsing social media and on messaging apps. It is estimated that smartphone users spend more than three hours every day on their phones. Millennials often look at their phone screens more than 100 times each day. Overuse of smartphones has resulted in certain peculiar medical conditions.
Whatsappitis as a condition was first described in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’ in 2014, in a 34yrold doctor who complained of pain in both her wrist joints and thumbs. It was found that she had inflammation of the tendons of the thumb due to continuous movement while messaging for over 6 hours. Prolonged and repetitive movements can result in tendon inflammation and injury. This results in pain and difficulty in moving the thumb.
Treatment of Whastappitis is just like most other medical conditions, ‘prevention is better than cure’, here too. Keep your smartphone use in check. There are several apps that can track your daily screen time along with the details of time spent on different apps. Use this feedback to limit your smartphone usage.
- While using smartphones, keep your wrists straight; try to hold your phone in both the hands
- Do not use your phone for more than 15-20 minutes at a time
- Avoid marathon browsing or messaging sessions
The use of larger and heavier smartphones can further increase the risk of tendon injury. Using the voice message function of popular messaging apps may be better than typing the message, in order to reduce the strain on your thumb. A periodic ‘smartphone detox’ can also be beneficial. If you already have symptoms of Whatsappitis, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and a wrist brace, in addition to the above.
Other medical conditions of the hand due to smartphone overuse: DeQuervain’sTenosynovitis is another condition where there is inflammation of the tendons of the thumb due to overuse of handheld electronic devices. It is also known as ‘BlackBerry Thumb’, ‘texting thumb’ or ‘gamer’s thumb’. Overuse of smartphones may also increase the risk of carpal Tunnel Syndrome which is characterized by pain, tingling, burning, and numbness along the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring finger. Prolonged smartphone usage can also cause arthritis of the joints at the base of the thumb.
Evolution is a slow process. Our hands are yet to adapt to this swiftly rising use of smartphones in our day-to-day lives. Till such time, we must be judicious with our smartphone usage.
(Writer is Dr Siddharth M. Shah, Consultant Orthopaedics & Joint Replacement Surgeon, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim-A Fortis Associate. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)