“Texting thumb”: It was only a matter of time

August 29, 2016

With texting becoming an increasingly popular way of communicating—and undoubtedly the most popular one among teens—is it any wonder more people are suffering from “texting thumb” these days? Dr. Bennett H. Brown, a board-certified, fellowship-trained hand and upper extremity specialist at the Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group, explains the causes of texting thumb and future concerns for our text-happy society.

Q: What exactly is “texting thumb”?

Dr. Brown: Texting thumb is joint and hand pain due to tendon and joint inflammation—otherwise known as tendonitis and arthritis—that’s caused by texting’s increased physical demand on your thumb, which is already the most-used digit on your hand.

Q: What happens if you develop texting thumb?

Dr. Brown: In younger people, we’re seeing mostly in tendonitis. In middle-age adults, constant texting causes early-onset arthritis.

Q: Is there any known treatment?

Dr. Brown: Both tendonitis and arthritis related to over-texting are best treated with rest, oral anti-inflammatories, and ice. If there’s still pain, noninvasive treatments can reduce thumb inflammation, and custom-molded splints may be fitted. While these work for most patients, others need cortisone injections and even minimally invasive surgery.

Q: What’s the long-term outlook?

Dr. Brown: While we still don’t know if teenagers will develop earlier arthritic changes in their hands and thumbs down the road, logic says they will. Overuse of any joint causes a breakdown of cartilage and arthritis.

Dr. Brown’s final piece of advice: The next time you reach for your smartphone, consider calling instead of texting—it’s good for you and your thumbs. Do you think you may suffer from texting thumb? Contact the hand subspecialist team at the Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group to find out.