How To Avoid “Smartphone Pinky” And Other Pains From Getting Stuck To Your Phone


The pain in Julie Mueller’s right hand was getting worse. She had just arrived in Ireland for a trip in 2018 when she started to feel a pinch at the base of her pinky finger. It wasn’t long, she said, before that pain turned into constant pain and started radiating out through the outer edge of her hand.

“It occurred to me,” Mueller said, “that after the plane ride and many, very long bus rides, it was this constant balance of the phone.”

For hours on the journey from her home in northern Michigan, Mueller, 48, used her Google Pixel smartphone – holding it as she always does: in one hand, with the bottom of the phone resting against her pinky finger, leaving his free thumb scroll.

The claw-shaped grip and its variations are commonplace among smartphone users. But orthopedists and occupational therapists say the one-handed grip can take a toll on the body. Dubbed “smartphone pinkie” (not a formal medical term) by some people on the internet, issues that could result from using your smallest finger as a phone holder are joining a growing list of hand, wrist, and other issues. elbow and neck which experts say are probably linked to the excessive use of wearable technology.

“In the last five to 10 years, as phones have evolved from your standard flip phone or Nokia block phone, which are much smaller, to those mini-computers in your hands, there has been an increase in overuse injuries and nerve-related symptoms. people are spending a lot more time on their smartphones, ”said Duc Nguyen, an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins with expertise in hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder conditions.

So the next time you grab your phone, here’s what Nguyen and other experts recommend you keep in mind:

– Be aware of how you hold and use your device.

Musculoskeletal and nervous problems associated with phone use are often the result of the time you spend in “constrained positions” doing repetitive movements, said Dominic King, athletic physician and interventional orthopedist at the Cleveland Clinic. .

A one-handed claw grip, for example, is “just not a natural position we normally like to use our hands in,” Nguyen said. In this position, he said, people tend to flex their wrists at an angle, which can strain the tendons and increase pressure on the nerves that run through the wrist. If, for example, the median nerve in the wrist is compressed, it can cause numbness or tingling in some fingers. Additionally, Nguyen said, the claw grip could exacerbate elbow conditions such as golfer or tennis elbow.

Using your phone with one hand can also lead to general muscle pain and wreak havoc on your thumbs and little fingers, experts said. Stretching your thumb across a screen repeatedly can cause tendonitis, pain and possibly even trigger the finger, said Eugene Tsai, director of hand surgery training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Movement can also worsen existing arthritis at the base of the thumb.

“Our thumbs just haven’t evolved to do this nonstop job for long periods of time,” Tsai said.

The Pinkies were also not designed to support heavy smartphones, experts said – despite the number of people saying they instinctively press their phone against the smallest finger.

This may be because the little fingers have more mobility than other fingers, said Ann Lund, occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at the Mayo Clinic. But, she said, the finger is smaller and will not “tolerate pressure and positioning as well as a larger finger.”

Putting your phone on your pinky finger can strain the ligament that connects the finger to your hand, said Michelle G. Carlson, hand and upper limb surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. The place where the little finger contacts the phone can also become callused and painful, she said.

Hand and wrist positioning aside, pay attention to your elbow and neck, experts said. If you keep your elbow bent more than 90 degrees for long periods of time, for example when you hold your phone to your ear or bring it closer to your face, there is a “very significant increase in pressure” on the part. of the ulnar nerve that runs through the cubital tunnel through the elbow, Nguyen said.

Nerves can also be squeezed if you frequently contort your neck to pinch your phone between your ear and shoulder, King said. And, he said, you can feel tension and stiffness in the back of your neck while looking at your phone screen.

It’s essential, Lund said, to pay attention to symptoms that may arise when you’re on the phone.

“What your body is telling you is that you have reached maximum performance capacity,” she said, “and so what it asks for is a little rest.”

– Take breaks and change your position often.

The key to preventing mild overuse issues from turning into more serious conditions is to reduce and change phone usage, experts said.

“If you plan to use your phone for several hours a day, you don’t want them to be continuous,” Nguyen said. “Take a break. Extend your fingers. Stretch your wrist.

Be aware of how much time you usually spend on your phone and set time limits, King said. Apple and Android devices, for example, allow users to monitor their screen time and set limits for the use of apps.

Changing positions frequently can also make “a huge difference,” said Carlson. “Even if you are talking on the phone with your elbow bent, go to the other side… don’t try to power it up as this will cause problems that will last well beyond your phone call. “

Consider moving or repositioning at least every 10 to 15 minutes, Nguyen and King said. Tsai recommended 5-minute intervals, noting, “Five minutes goes by very quickly when using your phone, but it’s actually a long time to keep your hand in one position. “

Any noticeable pain, such as aching or aching, indicates that you need a change.

– Give priority to comfort and ergonomics.

For those who can’t or don’t want to put their phones down, there are ways to use them more comfortably, experts said.

Trying to hold your phone with both hands, Nguyen said, which allows the wrists to be in a neutral position and allows you to use both thumbs to cover more of the screen.

If you’re used to using your phone with one hand, don’t rely on your pinky finger for support, King said. Instead, he and other experts have suggested purchasing assistive accessories, such as PopSockets or removable rings and straps, which may also come with some phone cases.

“Personally, I can’t even use a phone without PopSocket anymore,” Nguyen said. “Not only can you reach much easier, but it’s a more natural ergonomic position for your hand and wrist. “

These attachments can also make it easier to adjust your hand position when holding a phone and increase comfort if you switch to your non-dominant hand, Lund said.

Mueller, the Michigan resident, devised a more personalized approach to solving her phone-induced pain. Now, when she knows she could be on the phone for longer periods of time, she said she uses a 3D printed splint by her husband for her that keeps her ring finger and pinky finger together.

Experts also recommended more hands-free use or consideration of the size of the phone.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as trying to fit the right size phone to the right size hand,” Lund said. If you are buying a phone, Carlson suggested making sure it is comfortable in your hand before purchasing it.

– Know when to seek medical attention.

While experts have said that mild symptoms often resolve with rest and changing how you use your phone, they stressed that it’s important not to rule out issues that worsen or persist.

If the numbness and tingling in your hand and fingers persists even long after you’ve stopped using your phone or changed positions, it may be a “sign of very severe nerve compression,” Tsai said. Muscle atrophy could also indicate a more serious nerve problem, he said.

Any pain that also does not resolve quickly should be evaluated by a medical professional, King said. Neck pain, in particular, added Lund, “should be treated immediately to make sure it is just tension and nothing more insidious.”

Remember, King said, that the use of technology is only one factor that can contribute to musculoskeletal or nervous problems. “Knowing how to reduce some of these bigger injuries can start by simply setting a time limit with your phone.”

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