With an increase in the use of personal electronic devices during our daily lives, we need to be aware of potential negative impacts these devices can have on our bodies. Using electronic devices for extended periods of time, holding a static position, can create stress on our bodies.
Signs and Symptoms of Overuse
- Numbness in the fingers from sustaining wrist and elbow positions while holding the device.
- Cramping of the fingers and thumbs from using smaller devices for extended periods of time. Keep in mind that for every 1 kg of pressure applied to the pad of your thumb, there is 13 times that amount at the base of your thumb!
- Inflammation from repetitive movements causing triggering or catching in the fingers.
- Muscle stiffness in the neck or shoulders due to a prolonged bent posture when using devices.
What can you do to decrease the effects?
- Take breaks from using the device. If you are using it for leisure, set a timer to remind yourself to take a break (for example, every 30 minutes).
- Sit with your back resting against the back of a chair to maintain appropriate posture.
- Gently tilt your head forward to stretch the back of the neck. Gently tilt your head backwards to stretch the front of your neck.
- Pull your shoulders back periodically to stretch open your chest.
- Alternate which hand is controlling and holding the device.
- Keep your palm flat on the back of the device to allow easier grip.
- Use a device adaptor, such as a PopSocket or phone loop, to decrease the amount of grip and pinch required to hold the device. Also consider getting a stand for a larger device, such as a tablet.
- Consider using a stylus to decrease the repetitive use on your thumbs and index fingers.
- Avoid keeping wrists in a bent position to decrease the stress on your carpal tunnel/wrist area.
- Do not rest your elbows on hard surfaces when using your devices and do not keep your elbows in a bent position for a prolonged period of time. Consider placing a towel or a pillow under your elbow if resting on a table or desk.
- Use a case with no-slip grip to decrease the amount of force required to hold the device. This will decrease the pressure through the fingers and wrist.
- There are apps and alerts that will tell you how long you have been using your device. This is a good way to monitor yourself and potentially decrease the effects of overuse. Decreasing the amount time you look at the screen will decrease strain on your eyes.
- Change your focus from the device to an object in the distance if using for a long period of time. This will reduce the fatigue on your eyes.
- Take a break and stretch out your elbows and fingers. Fully extend your elbows, bend and straighten your wrists and open and close your fingers to decrease fatigue and stiffness while holding a device. Pinch your shoulder blades together intermittently when using the device to remind yourself of correct posture.
- Keep the device at a comfortable distance from your body so that it will promote proper posture and a comfortable viewing angle.
As we continue to rely more on technology as a society, it is imperative that we are aware of how to protect our bodies from the harmful effects of use of electronic devices and other technology. For more information, view ASHT’s personal device safety video. If you are having any of these problems from using personal devices, visit a hand therapist or your local hand surgeon.
Michelle McMurray, MOT, OTR/L, CHT is a Certified Hand Therapist, a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) and an affiliate member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH).