The 21st Century Thumb – Texting Can Lead to Thumb Arthritis

Texting Can Lead to Thumb ArthritisLet’s face it we’re all guilty of overusing the text feature of our cell phones! The 21st century thumb has been introduced to ranges of motion that are now being overused. Irregular motion of the thumb due to texting has presented new aches and pains that our bodies are not accustomed to performing.

Texting involves that our thumbs move at a higher frequency than normal and a higher frequency at which you may be texting with your thumbs causes an unnatural motion that may potentially lead to tendonitis or arthritis.

The texting thumb usually refers to the “trigger thumb” – The constriction of a flexor tendon in the thumb, which may result from repetitive gripping motions such as texting or holding a smartphone. Its symptoms include painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens; sometimes the thumb even becomes locked in a curled position.

Cortisone injections to treat the thumb eliminates the pain and restore mobility 80 to 85 percent of the time; in more severe cases, a brief surgical procedure may be required to release the pulley at the base of the thumb so that the tendon can move more easily. If you have thumb pain or stiffness that seems to worsen with use of a smartphone, change the way you use your phone and hold your phone with the hand you use less frequently or type messages with your index finger to give your thumbs a rest.

Dr. Wayne Weil at OSS frequently diagnoses and treats trigger finger. In mild cases, splints to rest the finger, or over-the-counter pain medications and/or corticosteroid injections may be recommended. Injections are less likely to provide permanent relief when a person has experienced trigger finger for a long time, or if there is an associated medical problem such as diabetes. Surgical treatment may be recommended for more severe cases.

If the finger is stuck in a bent position, or if the symptoms are severe, surgery may be the best course of treatment. Surgery’s goal is to widen the opening of the tunnel so that the tendon can slide through it more easily. It’s usually an outpatient surgery performed through a small incision. Dr. Weil frequently performs surgery for patients with trigger finger at OSS’ on-site surgery center.

According to Dr. Weil, “The modern day thumb is required to perform an incredible amount of repetitive activities with use of computers, cell phones and gaming systems. This can lead to significant tendonitis and inflammation of the thumb flexor and extensor tendons. If not adequately treated conditions such as trigger finger and de Quervain’s tendonitis can compromise the ability to perform activities of daily living. I often see patients with these conditions and if caught early can treat them with hand therapy, activity modifications, cortisone injections and sometimes surgery.”

Thumb arthritis – Arthritis of the carpometacarpal joint, where the thumb connects to the wrist is also sometimes called “texting thumb” where forceful pinching motions occur when gripping your phone or texting with your thumbs may lead to more severe symptoms. This condition requires rest and treatment to alleviate the pain and restore mobility. Treatments may include splints and cortisone injections. Patients with persistent symptoms may need a procedure called carpometacarpal arthroplasty, in which a surgeon removes part or all of the arthritic trapezium bone to relieve pain and improve function.

If you believe you are suffering from a hand-related injury and need specialized orthopedic care, Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle provide excellent treatment options available for you. Please feel free to contact OSS at (206) 633-8100 to schedule an appointment.