My inspiration for this blog article comes from a recent visit I had this weekend at my sister in-law’s house. They are dealing with an issue that many North American families have to deal with….kids that spend way too much time using electronic devices. She was upset because on a sunny day, her son spent 6 straight hours playing X-box. In addition to that, he spent time on the computer on MSN, Youtube, Facebook, and numerous other websites. Don’t forget television as well. This trend is growing at a ridiculous rate, and as a physiotherapist I get to see the physical effects.
RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, is a collective term for syndromes characterized by discomfort, impairment and loss of muscle strength and function. RSI often affects the neck, the back and particularly the arms and hands. It is found primarily in adults who perform repeated movements such as those involved in typing or playing musical instruments. It is commonly named according to the part of the body affected, e.g. tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, golfer’s elbow. We are starting to see RSI turn up in younger and younger patients which is rather alarming.
In addition to computers and gaming devices, there has been a substantial increase in the amount of time teenagers spend on their cellular phones sending text messages, thereby potentially affecting the prevalence of RSI in this group (2). The increased frequency of texting is leading to a condition popularly termed “Blackberry Thumb”, or “teen texting tendonitis”. This occurs because these devices rely almost solely on the use of your thumbs (not all of your fingers) for typing. Any device that relies on the thumbs for typing can cause this type of injury because the thumbs simply weren’t designed for such use (1,3). Repetitive mechanical loading of the thumb, combined with inactivity, and prolonged slouched postures resulting in increased neural tension results in increased risk of developing RSI.
Symptoms of “Blackberry thumb” include pain and numbness in the thumbs and joints of the hand (1). But there are also other bodily symptoms:
- Pain and numbness at the base of the thumb
- Tingling and numbness in hand, including joints
- Pain in elbow
- Shoulder, neck pain during computer use
- Tired, achy fingers and cramping
It is estimated that teenagers sending and receiving an average of 80 text messages each day may be vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries of the thumb (4). If you think this is a high number and unlikely, consider these statistics:
- About 75 percent of 12-17 year-olds in America now own a cell phone (4).
- Half of those teenagers send 50 or more text messages a day (4).
- One-third of teens send more than 100 text messages daily (4).
If you think my sister in-law’s son is a minority, then guess again. Here is another interesting statistic: Americans between ages 8 and 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using an electronic device, be it a computer, cellular phone, or television (4). If this sounds like your child, or one you know, then consider these tips to avoid developing these repetitive strain conditions:
- Alternate the fingers and hand used for texting.
- Restrict the length of time using the electronic device.
- Pacing: take frequent breaks from the continuous activity, even if only for a short period of time.
- Alternate postures: do not hold slouchy, head down or head forward postures for long periods. Periodically roll your neck and shoulders, twist your trunk gently, and stand up to break up the cycle.
- Increase level of physical activity.
- Most importantly…..put away the electronic devices and get outside! Don’t text or MSN friends- socialize and hang out with them. Kids are meant to participate in physical play, not electronic play.
Restricting time spent on electronic devices, and increasing physical activity will significantly reduce the risk of developing RSI conditions. If your child develops symptoms of RSI, please see an appropriate health practitioner to help deal with the issue. If left unchecked, these symptoms can progress and become quite severe and debilitating. If this issue is familiar to you, the staff at One To One Wellness would like to help you.
- Karim S. From ‘Playstation Thumb’ to ‘Cellphone Thumb’ : the new epidemic in teenagers. S Afr Med J 2009; 99(3): 161-162.
- Gustafsson et al. Thumb postures and physical loads during mobile phone use – A comparison of young adults with and without musculoskeletal symptoms. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 2010; 20: 127–135.
- Mandal et al. Prolonged use of electronic games – a word of caution. Int. J. Care Injured 2005; 36, 218-219.