Is texting really worth the pain?

PHOTO: Is texting really worth the pain?

The tech savvy should be forewarned that excessive use of smartphones as well as tablet computers could result in possible conditions which will eventually lead to arthritis.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Yong Chee Khuen said the most extreme injuries resulting from frequent smartphone use could lead to arthritis.

"It can lead to permanent damage in your thumb joints."

More common problems, however, were weak gripping, weak pinching, pain as well as inflammation of the tendons, said Dr Yong.

"These ailments are known as the gamer's thumb, or the BB thumb with smartphone and Playstation users."

He said even tablet computer users were prone to neck pains.

He added that many patients with neck problems suffered as they tended to look down for a prolonged period of time, which was an unhealthy position for the neck.

"If the device is bigger than your hand, rest it on a table or a bag rather than holding it in the air as it will strain your wrist muscles."

On treatment, Dr Yong said the majority of cases were treated in a conservative manner.

"I wish I could confiscate my patients' phones.

"I usually encourage them to talk, instead of texting as their fingers need to rest," he said.

Sometimes, he said, along with anti-inflammatory medication, patients were made to wear wrist splints, which encouraged them to rest their hands.

"In a worst case scenario, patients will have to undergo surgery because of torn and inflamed tendons," said Dr Yong.

He, added that this was, however, a rare occurrence.

He said patients should take frequent breaks when texting as prevention is better than cure. 


"Do not text for more than 15 minutes at a time and if you really need to, try to make it short using abbreviations.

"Try alternating between your thumbs and fingers."

He added that patients should have a neutral grip when holding the phone or tablet to prevent increased strain on the wrist.

Dr Yong, who sees about two patients every month with texting injuries, said his patients were normally women aged between 20 and 40.

He said, according to a 2006 survey by a phone company in the United Kingdom, mobile phones were the cause of 3.8 million cases of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) per year.

Dr Yong added that professionals like teachers, who used chalk sticks to write on blackboards, could also suffer from similar injuries.

University Malaya Medical Centre senior lecturer and hand surgeon Dr Ravindran Thuraisingham said ailments from "text thumb injury" and "text neck" were cumulative effects from overuse of the limbs, and not solely caused by texting.

He said both syndromes were, however, RSI, which were reversible.

"Patients just need sufficient rest to recover from these injuries," he said.

Although Malaysians were active smartphone users, there were only a small number of patients who sought medical attention, said Dr Ravindran.

Most patients were usually women aged 30 to 45.

It was reported on Sunday that users of smartphones and tablet computers were starting to get high-tech blues, as increasing numbers of the tech savvy were coming down with ailments from text neck to text thumb injuries.