What is texting thumb?

"Texting thumb" doesn't refer to a specific diagnosis. However, you may associate your hand, wrist or thumb pain with use of your smart devices/phones. Some patients experience cramping in their hand or in their thumb with repetitive activities such as writing, playing instruments or even texting.
When this occurs, the cramping likely is an indication that the muscles have become tired and need some rest. In cases where the cramping has become more severe or arrives without repetitive activities, you should consider evaluation by a physician.
Some patients associate sharp pain in the wrist at the base of their thumb with smart phone use. If this is the case, it may be De Quervains tenosynovitis. This is when thumb extensor tendons have a hard time gliding across the wrist due to thickening of a tunnel the tendons have to glide through. The initial treatment is usually activity modification, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen) and a thumb splint. However, if that doesn’t resolve the symptoms, a steroid injection or surgery is often considered. 
Texting thumb may also refer to a trigger thumb. This occurs when the finger flexor tendon has a hard time sliding through a tunnel at the base of the finger in the front of the hand. Often, patients will experience pain and, in more severe cases, catching or locking of the finger when they flex and extend the digit. Again, initial treatment includes activity modification, NSAIDs and a trigger finger splint. If that doesn’t resolve the symptoms, steroid injections and surgery can be very successful. 

How does texting thumb develop?

Any repetitive activity can lead to discomfort if proper rest isn't taken. If you develop pain related to repeated texting or smart phone use, the first thing to do is take a break and see if it improves. However, if it doesn't, you should consider physician evaluation.

Who’s most likely to develop this issue?

Every demographic is at risk of pain/discomfort with any repetitive activity. In general, cramping, De Quervains and trigger thumb are more common in the adult population (ages 30-70) However, it may occur in any age group.

Is there any way to prevent or treat texting thumb? 

Again, texting thumb isn’t a diagnosis. Instead, you may have wrist, hand and thumb pain that you associate with texting on a smart device. Sometimes, texting can bring about or cause symptoms, but more likely repetitive texting is exacerbating symptoms of one of several possible conditions. If you’re having pain in your hand or wrist, you should consider evaluation by an expert.
Kanu Goyal is an orthopedic hand and upper extremity surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

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