Recently, a study at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that more than half of “intensive” mobile device users – those using devices like smartphones more than three hours a day – displayed some of the initial symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome (CST) happens when the median nerve (running from the forearm into the palm of the hand) gets pressed or squeezed at the wrist, damaging the carpal tunnel, a passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand. This often results in burning, tingling or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers – particularly the thumb, index and middle fingers. Unless treated, CTS can be permanent.
That news should concern the average American consumer. A 2017 report from Flurry, a respected web analytics firm, shows that the average user now spends more than five hours per day on his or her mobile device. Of course, users aren’t swiping or typing that entire time, but it would be safe to say that the potential for CST is there for most smartphone owners. Whether you are using social media or sending texts or playing games, each repetitive motion could be causing damage to your carpal tunnel.
You only need to ask a doctor to get firsthand proof. “Most of my carpel tunnel syndrome patients used to be folks over the age of forty,” says Dr. Robert Clayburgh, orthopedic surgeon at Valley Bone & Joint Clinic in Grand Forks, North Dakota. “Today, we’re seeing those patients get younger and younger.”
Clayburgh, who has specialized in hand surgery for more than thirty years, is confident that mobile devices have played a part in this shift. “As always, there are a lot of factors and behaviors that go into a complex syndrome like this,” he says. “But it would be very hard to look past the data at this point. Repetitive use of a mobile device seems to be a contributing factor to CTS, and so the more we use them, the more CTS we are likely to see.”
Here’s some good news: by minimizing stress on your hands and wrists, you may be able to prevent CTS, or at least minimize its severity. Here are some tips:
- Take breaks often – The best advice may be to simply avoid overdoing repetitive motion on your mobile device.
- Alternate tasks – One of the key words to remember with CTS is repetitive. Mix up how you use your device.
- Use good form – Try to avoid bending your wrist all the way in either direction.
- Stretch – Your doctor can give you exercises to perform that may improve the flexibility of your hands and wrists.
- Relax – It’s called a touch screen for a reason – there is no reason to pound on it with excessive force.
Actually, there’s even more good news. If these prevention techniques don’t work, a surgeon like Dr. Clayburgh can perform a minimally invasive surgery that features both a quick recovery time and a dramatically high rate of success. “Typically, surgery should be the last resort,” says Clayburgh, “but at least with carpel tunnel surgery, the procedure is very, very effective.”
If you’d like to learn more about carpel tunnel syndrome, ask your doctor. If you are diagnosed with the disorder, insist on a referral to Valley Bone & Joint Clinic. Dr. Clayburgh performed his fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and completed a hand surgery fellowship as well. He is board certified in orthopedic surgery with an added certificate for surgery of the hand. He has completed hundreds of successful carpel tunnel surgeries in his career and is considered by many to be eastern North Dakota’s top hand doctor.